Live streaming, it’s nothing new. We’ve been exposed to live broadcasts for years; in fact, in the early days of TV in the late 30’s it was actually the norm, as it cost a lot more to store footage on film than to release it immediately through the airwaves. So while pre-war viewers got accustomed to the magic of Television being beamed straight into their homes, they were actually becoming the early adopters of ‘real-time content’. But like the bombs that would shortly follow, time flies and the inexorable advancement of technology bulldozes conventions just as quickly as it creates them.
From a consumer point of view, we were purely observers, our viewing devices locked in place and ready to transmit the world into our waiting gaze. Reliant on the broadcasters to serve up content that would entertain, educate or even enrage. In 1983, just as I was joining the world, consumers were invited to join the conversation. With the release of the first consumer camcorder, Sony made it possible for us to record the stories that matter to us and keep precious memories safe or to share them with our family and friends. With the opportunity to share them with wider audiences coming later when some utter genius / lunatic pitched the idea of creating a TV show devoted to home-movies. But it was truly cemented with the birth of our own broadcast channels in the form of social media two short decades later.
The concept of personalised live streaming isn’t new either; it’s been around for a while, with webcams and an internet connection being widely accessible since the mid-90s. The technological evolution of consumer tech has taken place in the exact opposite direction to that of the industry; recording first, live second. However, with more recent improvements in mobile phone filming capabilities, coupled with their greatly improved internet connections and the emergence of social, live streaming apps, it’s never been easier to instantly share your own personal newscast, wherever* you are (*mumbling “signal permitting”). Until this point, live video hasn’t really found its place within the social media milieu but with these recent developments, we’re about to see it finally come into its own. Yes, we’ve been able to embed links from web or YouTube but it is with this integration that is has really become part of the social experience.
I recently took part in panel discussion as part of BVE (the broadcast video expo) entitled ‘Periscope, Meerkat and Facebook Live: The Future of Live Streaming’, in which this statement was considered. From both a consumer and a brand point of view, live streaming opens up a world of exciting possibilities, or should we just say, it opens up the world. Over the past few years, we’ve seen the physical borders of brand events smashed to the ground, and digital content allow the creation of experiences without boundaries. You don’t have to be there, to be there. And with live streaming that invitation has become ever more appealing. But the most exciting shift in the streaming scene has come over the past year or so thanks to these apps and now mainstream acceptance beckons. While it was Meerkat who burst out of the traps in early 2015, Periscope (from Twitter) was leading the way by the same time this year, announcing its integration with the main Twitter platform, to ensure a more fluid sharing and discovery experience. This shift has mirrored a trend in social, with real-time apps, such as Snapchat rising in popularity; Millennial’s more concerned with exclaiming, “here’s what I’m doing” rather than “here’s what I’ve done”. Like live streaming, the content is ephemeral in nature and to some extent, rendered insignificant almost as it happens. It’s the lightning moment of emotional connection, with the right people, at the right time that leaves a lasting mark.
While Meerkat and Periscope (and a whole host of other apps) have been spearheading this new world, Facebook have been watching, and waiting. The world’s largest social media network has been testing Facebook Live with your favourite celebrities and quietly introducing the idea of live content into your newsfeed for a while now. Just a couple of weeks ago, Mr. Zuckerberg furtively rolled it out into the consumer version (beyond the US), with no big fanfare or call-to-action, just a shiny new button ready and waiting for the early adopters of today to embrace this latest function. Boom, over 900 million daily users on mobile instantly own the ability to broadcast their activities live and in colour. Facebook is even prioritizing live video, adjusting the News Feed algorithm yet again to display live content at the top of streams, “because Facebook Live videos are more interesting in the moment than after the fact.”
Free flowing, instant, virtual experiences will soon be everywhere. And with these developments happening almost perfectly in tandem with the evolution and impending mainstream adoption of VR (virtual reality in case you’ve had your head down the back of the sofa), the possibilities of how these worlds will collide are mouth-watering. However, don’t get too excited and don’t leap before you look. Before brands or Bob from Human Resources ‘go live’, the biggest question is what warrants a live audience? On both sides, there will be those who get it right and those who find themselves whistling in the wind, it’s not necessarily right for everyone. Keep the words of Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic park close, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that they didn’t stop to think if they should”. Get to know YOUR audience and what really moves them, before diving into the next new thing.