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Is live video the next big thing?

From slick videos to raw, unedited footage: it may seem like a step back, but live videos are the future of social media

HT48HRS_Special Updated: Nov 24, 2016 16:34 IST
Meenakshi Iyer
live video

With the way social media is influencing our consumption, the live action is slowly shifting online(Illustration: Siddhanth Jumde)

If you spend hours navigating various social media platforms — and that’s all of us, really — you may have noticed something oddly familiar. All of them — Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram — have been quietly rolling out features that push you to go live and share your experience with the world.

The latest is Instagram’s update to its stories feature, which lets you go live from any location, and as soon as you are done, the video disappears. “When you’re done, your live story disappears from the app, so you can feel more comfortable sharing anything, anytime,” the photo sharing app said in its blog, earlier this week. The feature is yet to be rolled out to all regions.

Instagram recently added live videos to its app. It is similar to Facebook’s live video feature (Photo courtesy: Instagram blog)

But the question begging to be asked is: why has video suddenly taken over words, even as little as 140 characters? The answer lies in numbers. According to Facebook, users are already watching 100 million hours of video per day on the social media platform. And that’s just Facebook. As of March 2016, over 200 million broadcasts have been created on Twitter’s Periscope. According to a 2015 report by Cisco, video content will account for 80 per cent of global internet traffic by 2019.

Don’t be surprised if, someday, all you see are videos on your social media feeds, instead of personal status updates.

The lure of live

For decades, television has taken us closer to live action: be it sporting events, the Gulf War, or the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. Now, with the way social media is influencing our consumption, the live action is slowly shifting online. Take, for instance, Cheddar, an online news start-up that’s betting big on Facebook’s live feature. Every day, its anchors go live from the New York Stock Exchange floor, with the latest news on business, technology, and start-ups. Think of it as an informal CNBC for millennials.

Globally, Buzzfeed is a leader in video content creation. In April this year, the web publishing giant made a video of two employees trying to make a watermelon explode with rubber bands. And at one point, more than 8,00,000 people were watching it live on their phones and desktops. Another video that went viral was of a police officer talking a man down from an attempted suicide, somewhere in the US. Posted by NowThis, a video network for the mobile generation, it got 46 million views.

Even news sites are ditching studio set-ups and edit rooms, and taking viewers straight to where the action is. “The internet has never been so forgiving of bad video quality. And the reason is that viewers are tired of being manipulated by media for years,” says Yusuf Omar, mobile editor, Hindustan Times.

Recently, Omar used Snapchat filters to tell the stories of sexual abuse survivors in Mysore. The filters allowed women to protect their identity, and give an account of their ordeal without fear of societal stigma. The entire footage was shot and edited on a mobile phone. Clearly, Snapchat is beyond teenagers sending nudies to each other. And traditional media platforms have finally realised its importance.

“The current live platforms have democratised video. Now, anyone can share what’s happening around him or her, with people around the world. The very fact that the video isn’t polished makes it more powerful and intimate,” says Sree Sreenivasan, tech evangelist and New York City’s chief digital officer. “The other thing that makes it so attractive is that you can give feedback and ask questions instantly,” he adds. So far, Sreenivasan has done more than 200 live videos and his NYT read-alongs (where he reads the Sunday New York Times print edition every week) are extremely popular.

And truly, what sets apart live videos from traditional media is the ability to offer instant feedback. “As an update to Periscope.tv on Twitter, it now allows you to log in to your account and join as a member of the audience so that you can comment and send hearts in any live video,” says an official blog on Periscope.

The future of live

While we may have only scratched the surface of the live video, it has opened up a whole new world of broadcasting, especially for brands and marketers. Even on an individual level, it has given us the opportunity to be the story, and not just tell the story.

But there is a larger picture to be seen here. More video consumption on social media means more advertising, and since video ads are usually more expensive, that translates to more revenue.

And if you thought the quality of live videos doesn’t match up to those seen on TV, that’s soon going to change. Facebook has tied up with publishers to develop equipment that will allow them to broadcast high-quality videos. Publishers will be able to integrate studio technology, control rooms, multiple cameras, among other things, to be able to improve quality of videos. With the launch of 4G technologies and the ‘digital India’ push, bandwidths are set to get better.

Live videos have seen a lot of progress in a relatively short period of time. If a year ago, you thought vlogging was cutting-edge, it’s time to feel the same way about live videos. Because if you are not already going live, you are going to be left behind. Go on, hit the record button.

Live video on Facebook (Photo courtesy: facebook.com)

10-point guide to doing live videos like a pro

Create suspense: The reason we watch anything live is because we want to know what’s going to happen. Keep the most attractive feature for the end.

Engage: Ask a lot of questions; ask for viewers’ feedback every few minutes.

Get out of the studio: Older Huffington Post live videos done from the studio looked like a news channel. It failed. Take your live video where the action is.

Change format: It is important to break the format often. You don’t have to be in front of the camera all the time. Have more visual elements.

Schedule: Let your audience know a live video is coming. Tweet, post on Instagram.

Get good internet: Make sure you have access to excellent Wi-Fi connection or a 4G network.

Introduce the subject often: Viewers are going to start watching a video at different points. Introduce key people often.

Add text: People usually watch a video with the audio off. Build content into the video through comments.

Time: A good live should be 10 to 30 minutes long. It takes time for audience to start tuning in.

Be cautious: Provide trigger warnings if you are at a sensitive location. Since it is live, there’s very little you can change about what’s happening in front of you.

- Yusuf Omar, mobile editor, Hindustan Times

(You can follow him on Twitter: @YusufOmarSA )