Live and Let Live — Live Streaming vs. YouTube & Facebook Premieres

Live broadcast is exciting. It’s also nerve-wracking. In almost 20 years of producing live audio and video content, I still get nervous every time we go live. One of the vision mix operators I’ve worked with once told me he loved live streaming because of the unpredictability, stress and need for constant problem-solving. I laughed as those are all the things I could really do without, but I also know what he meant. Going live is exciting, but it does present some issues you may find unwelcome. So let’s explore when you need to go live, and why, and what the real difference is between live streaming and innovations like YouTube and Facebook Premieres.

When I consider live streaming — be it for one of my projects or a client commission — the first thing I do is ask why. Sometimes people have a good answer for this, but quite often they don’t. While I do want the job, I don’t let clients get away with “we got some funding for digital projects and have to do some live streaming” or “our board has told us to”. As a media producer, I need to know the full story. I want to know why (both my parents are journalists, I started out as a journalist and I’ll always think like one). I make them really consider their motives, find out what their project, campaign or programme objectives are and discuss the pros and cons of live streaming versus producing and publishing on demand content.

Often people want to create a shared experience for their audience. And amidst the coronavirus pandemic — especially during lockdown — we all crave some kind of shared experience. But there are simple ways to cultivate that. Apps like Rave let you stream shows, watch and comment along with your friends. Tim Burgess is curating his wonderfully simple Twitter Listening Parties . The heart-warming community clapping for front-line workers at 8pm every Thursday evening is a powerful real-world shared experience. And you can even watch live TV and listen to live radio! (Really, you can actually still do that.)

Live streams have to offer more than just shared experience. Involving the online audience in some kind of Q&A is the usual reason our clients give us; and it’s a valid one. If the presenter, host, guest speaker or performers can speak to the viewers or listeners, answer their questions and make them feel part of the stream, then there’s a great reason to stream live. Live streaming a programme works especially well, my colleagues at Inner Ear and I find, when there’s an element of jeopardy or a big reveal; some kind of competition, award, creative process or experiment.

Musicians are live streaming frequently these days. Often their performances are inviting donations, to good effect. And their shows — usually broadcast from home — are intimate and connect directly with their audience as the artists acknowledge comments, answer questions and take requests. Comedians are doing the same thing. Some actors, poets and other creative people are also experimenting with live streaming. Sometimes it works well, sometimes it doesn’t.

Another advantage of streaming something live is just doing it; setting up, going live and making a programme right there and then — mistakes and all. If you record it then you can always edit it later, and there’s always that risk that you’ll take much longer to do it. You might never finish it at all. So there’s a productivity imperative to live streaming too.

If you want high production values, which undoubtedly audiences do appreciate, then it’s much more demanding to do that live. It’s totally possible, but it takes a lot of preparation, planning, skill, expertise, experience, blood, sweat and tears — sometimes literally, especially the last one; trust me. For performances including live music, spoken work and dance, and especially with drama, often making a film and putting it up online is preferable because you can get the content right and present the piece just how you want it to be. Audiences used to the top production quality we expect of BBC, HBO and Netflix Originals (be it the stunning Stranger Things or the — to me — inexplicably popular how-did-they-drag-it-out-beyond-one-episode documentary series Tiger King) may prefer on demand video.

But if it’s not live, will they watch it? YouTube, Netflix and every streaming video site is packed with unviewed content. The excitement you can stimulate through live video definitely helps captivate an audience. But how do you create a great video and still utilise the shared experience? That’s where “as live” broadcast comes in.

We do this quite a lot, and always have done. Since we started our internet radio station, Radio Magnetic , all the way back in 2001, we have mixed pre-recorded content with live in the moment programmes and broadcast it all live. Playing pre-recorded video content out “as live” is possible, but it requires specialist software and a fair bit of know-how. Or you could use a service like Restream , but be aware of the hardware or software and platform costs involved in either of these options. But that was how you had to do it. Until the advent of the YouTube Premiere, that is. With YouTube Premieres, closely followed by Facebook Premieres, of course, you upload your video to the platform and schedule it for publication — like you would with any video.
But crucially with a Premiere, when it is published, the platform notifies your followers or subscribers and plays the video out as a live stream. Viewers can watch at the same time as each other, comment and chat; just like an actual live stream.

And “as live” streams, including Premieres, don’t have to be passive experiences as far as the creator is concerned. You, or the performers, producers or whoever is appropriate, can hang out in the chat room and join in the conversation; answering questions and providing further information.

Premieres are also a great way of doing something live even if your internet connection isn’t up to full live in the moment streaming. Just make sure you give yourself plenty of time to upload your video to the platform — even if that’s overnight or over several days.

Whatever you do with live content, make sure you know why you’re doing it, what you want to get out of the live streaming experience and consider whether your show should be live or as live, like a Premiere. And if you find the experience exciting, let your audience know and you can all share in thatexperience together.

An XpoNorth blog post by Dougal Perman,


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