Reaching Out Through Live Streaming

Your greatest asset can present your biggest challenge, location.

XpoNorth’s Alex Smith said that to me many years ago when we were discussing the immense cultural value of festivals, shows, venues and other artistic activities around the Highlands and Islands. All of them want to attract live audiences to attend in person, of course, but sometimes travel routes, time and cost are more of a barrier — especially for island-based activities — than their equivalents in towns and cities. Not that there are equivalent activities, really, because the location is what makes festivals like St Magnus, Heb Celt or Shetland Folk Festival so special. Those festivals enjoy good audiences but audience development is a consideration for every event. And there are always more ways to reach out.

Sometimes it is not about selling more tickets because there the event sells out every time. I had an interesting conversation last year with two of the Orkney Live Wire team about Orkney Rock Festival. The festival can’t really grow any bigger in terms of audience numbers, but they want to keep developing the audience, and exploring revenue generating opportunities without compromising the event.

Live streaming has become increasingly popular. I’ve been working in this area since my old friend and former business partner Tom Lousada and I launched internet radio station Radio Magnetic back in March 2001. We were streaming media pioneers back then. At the cutting edge, way ahead of the market. That sounds cool but it isn’t really; it’s very challenging to be at the forefront of something when the market hasn’t caught up with it and thus it’s very hard to make any real money. So eventually we pivoted and Radio Magnetic retreated into the background of what Inner Ear did as we focused on being a content company, providing production and consultancy services — with a specialism in live streaming.

Look at the market now. Nineteen years on and almost everyone carries the capability to live stream any activity in their pocket. People can, and do, stream anything. But why would you live stream something? How do you engage your audience? How do you make the stream a quality experience? How do you do it? I will explore this topic in detail through XpoNorth Digital throughout this year, but to start with, I’ll answer each of those questions as succinctly as I can.

Why would you live stream something?

There’s something exciting about a live broadcast. Even the simplest event — a discussion, acoustic performance, poetry reading or artist at work — can be captivating if presented in the right way. When you go live to an online audience, you create a shared experience; something lacking in the age of everything being available instantly on demand.

If an event has an element of jeopardy or a big reveal, it can work very well as a live stream. That’s why competitions get great audiences. Each year my company live streams the Glenfiddich Piping Championship, World Highland Dancing Competition and Scottish Album of the Year Award, for example. If the audience can get involved in some way, discussing the action in the chatroom or on Twitter, sharing in the anticipation, celebrating or commiserating the results together, then it can work well as a live stream.

Alex Smith: XpoNorth:

Your greatest asset can present your biggest challenge, location; however, the unique infrastructure and the sheer diversity and sophistication of the creative and cultural ecosystem in the region makes it an incredibly fertile landscape with strong global provenance- in addition to the fantastic physical experiences, this creates an exciting environment for innovation and the integration of new technologies to promote and augment the sector across the Highlands and Islands.’

How do you engage your audience?

An involved audience is an engaged audience. Make them feel part of the action. The moment you go live — whether you are filming and streaming the activity on your phone or you have a full production team on board — you become a broadcaster. And then you have to think about what your audience wants to watch and how to make them feel a part of it.

It’s almost always advisable to have a presenter. And that presenter should address the online audience, welcome them and make them feel part of the action. As comments are posted in the chatroom, write the best ones down and get your host, or presenter, to read them out, respond to questions and stimulate discussion. If that’s not appropriate — in a play or concert, for example — then consider getting someone from the company — a director or producer, perhaps — to participate in the chatroom conversation.

How do you make the stream a quality experience?

Most live streams are video, although there are lots of good internet radio stations and many podcasters are streaming their recording sessions live now too; so audio only streaming is something to consider too. Audio quality is crucial to both audio and video streams so make sure you have good sound. Usually a mixture of close and ambient microphones produce the best results. Beware of signal to noise, that is try to ensure you have the most amount of good quality signal (i.e. talking, singing, music, etc.) and the least amount of background noise. Some ambient background noise — chatter, rural or urban sounds — can add to the atmosphere, but make sure the main action can be heard clearly.

For video lighting is vital. You need to be able to see the action clearly, obviously, but the way you light your subject(s) can enhance the viewing experience considerably. Apply video production lighting techniques: research three-point lighting, use background lights to create depth and foreground lights to light the subject. Framing is also essential. Even a single camera static shot can be improved dramatically by paying careful attention to what you have in the frame, how close you are to the subject and what movement — if any — you have.

And, above all, internet connection reliability is crucial. I have produced hundreds (probably thousands if you count radio shows) of live streams from all over the country. I know the highs and lows of internet connectivity the length and breadth of the UK, especially around rural Scotland. But even when all you have to play with is a few hundred kilobits, you can optimise the quality of the stream to make the viewing experience the best it can be.

How do you do it?

Live streaming is immediate, instant, involved and inspiring. You can go live at the touch of a button. But to do it right there is a lot to think about, and a fair amount to learn. I’m a keen advocate of the medium. I think the more people doing it, the better, because it grows the market, reaches out to remote audiences with a shared experience and creates valuable content assets. Explaining how to live stream will take more time and words than I have here, but it’s something I will return to often.

Join me — in person or online — for my Remote Participation seminar from Highlands and Islands Enterprise’s #HelloDigital studio in Inverness on Monday 24 February at 15:30 and I’ll talk a bit about how to stream. I’ll also share some videos that attempt to demystify the subject too. Until then, think about reaching out to online viewers through live streaming, and bring your audiences closer to the action.

Dougal Perman: XpoNorth Digital Sector Specialist


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