Live Online Platforms Foster “Authentic” Relationships Between Broadcasters and Their Audience
For viewers, media consultants agree that the cellphone is a very personal device and the prime target for today’s station marketers. If a broadcaster is able to reach that phone, they have achieved something very valuable to the station and its anchors’ personal brand as an on-air personality.
For example, immediately after this year’s NFL Superbowl in February, WCAU-TV, the NBC TV affiliated station in Philadelphia, streamed exclusive interviews and content from its hometown Eagles Super Bowl LII preparations. There were also live scenes of the entire city coming out to see the team and MVP quarterback Nick Foles raise the Lombardi Trophy. Using Facebook Live, the station now regularly creates smaller hits for weather, teasing features for later broadcasts and even behind-the-scenes looks at the station and its talent. Some call it “brand building” while others see the opportunity to connect directly with individual viewers in ways not possible before. That can mean higher viewer retention and financially beneficial ratings.
With literally billion users and counting, these livestreaming platforms provide a great way for stations to use social media as a way to build their brands (and their audience) while allowing viewers to interact in real time. (Amazon’s Twitch is now pulling in as many monthly viewers as cable news networks. In January 2018, Twitch had nearly a million people watching at any given point.) Indeed, live streaming news events is no longer a luxury but a clear necessity in today’s multi-faceted mediaworld. With increasing regularity, the easiest and most reliable way to establish and retain this very personal relationship is through these live online platforms.
When breaking news happens, the station cango live online before the TV crew even gets to the scene of a news event. These online platforms also allow newsstations to present longer events, like a town parade, in their entirety while reporting just a few short clips on their linear TV channel. And they can also get closer to the event than a satellite truck with a small camera and live encoder in a backpack.
Broadcast equipment manufactures are beginning to take notice. Companies like Amazon Web Services, Broadcast Pix, IBM, Matrox, Microsoft, Wowza, and others are all marketing their respective technologies to allow users to get online quickly and with little effort. But the challenge is getting broadcasters to trust the reliability of online streaming. Platform providers like Amazon and Facebook have put a lot of effort into solving not only streaming success but also the many aspects of engagement that will attract viewers and keep them comingback. They recognize that the Holy Grail is making live streaming easy and fail-safe for those who produce video (both professionals and prosumers) and want to share video live with a potentially global audience.
The trick is enabling users to easily establish two-way communication while also automatically adjusting bit rates based on network conditions to ensure uptime. They have looked at ways to create something that will not only pair to a Facebook account, for example, but also, in the event of an interruption, how to configure a local machine to cache all of the data during a live stream until the connection is restored. Then it can continue to push that data out. If the user loses power mid-stream and then restores power quickly, the stream will automatically reconnect to that account and continue streaming. Basically, the main challenge was, “how do you build broadcast-quality redundancy in a live streaming box?”
Wowza, for one, has implemented all of these performance features into its ClearCaster product, which uses x264 compression today (a higher level encoding technology than standard H.264 AVC that provides better bit rate encoding and therefore better performance) and is ready to support H.265 VP-9 encoding when it become readily available. This allows it to also encode 360-degree and virtual reality video to create captivating experiences for online viewers to keep them coming back.
Within ClearCaster there’s a pairing code needed that allows the user to connect to their Facebook account. From within Facebook the users starts a live stream. There’s an option on Facebook Live that allows users to select ClearCaster as a paired device. It pulls up a preview window and allows you to set certain parameters. Or users can schedule a stream to go live when you want it to (up to 10 days ahead of time).
Introduced in 2016, Facebook Live is still in its infancy but is growing more important all the time. It started out as a way for people to go live on mobile devices and share what’s going on in their lives at any given moment. The results have been both highly entertaining (e.g., music artist creating their music for fans in real time) and stunning (as news events have played out for all the world to see). With the popularity of people watching live video, the Facebook Publisher API and creating RTMP ingest (stream packaging) for people to go from encoders or streaming services has increased significantly.
However, while growing so quickly, one of the overwhelming problems has been reliability and streaming success. With all of the successes, there have been a lot of performance issues and processing stages that need to be coordinated, as well as provisioning of bandwidth to ensure success.
Aside from being able to reliably complete the livestream, the other measure of success has been “can you engage with your audience?” For broadcasters, this does not mean “did I get the stream to the platform?” but “how engaging was I with my audience”, “Did I get likes?” and “Did people comment?” “Can I respond to them in real time?” And “how do I create an engaging program that gets people to interact in a meaningful way, and establishes an authentic interaction with them as well as increases their trust and loyalty so that they will come back again and again?”
It also means broadcasters can reach a wider audience with their existing workflows, maintain the same production qualities their audience is used to and engage them in a highly personal way. These platforms also allow citizen journalists to contribute late-breaking news content to the control room for live editing. With so many people using social media on a daily (hourly?) basis, live online streaming is the new recipe for news stations’ success.