What we’ve learnt from six months of professional social live streaming

As an agency, we have always believed in the power of live streaming. We were the first in the world to live stream into Facebook when we worked directly with the social network to pioneer the possibilities back in 2010.

Now six years later Mark Zuckerberg hails Facebook Live as a potential saviour for the network which has struggled to reverse a 21% decline in “original sharing” or personal updates from its 1.6bn monthly active users. Certainly, personal live video streams offer a new, incredibly intimate window into the life of the broadcaster, and we are focused on helping brands and companies to exploit the medium.

What makes Facebook’s entrance into live streaming interesting (and potentially worrying to the incumbent leaders of video) is its enormous user base and inbuilt competitive advantage. In a clear sign that Facebook believes live streaming will take off, the platform recently adjusted its algorithm to ensure Facebook Live broadcasts hit the top of its Newsfeeds ahead of any other type of user generated content.

The challenge for brands is how to jump into mobile live video streams in a compelling way that enhances brand equity, rather than undermines it. For brands protective of their image – luxury, automotive, fashion, FMCG – the low quality format of live mobile video, and the raw, unfiltered nature of the content goes against the grain of a carefully crafted brand image. For innovative brands though, live mobile video streaming can be a playground for experimentation.

We have learnt a lot about the medium over the last six months, both its limitations and its unique benefits, and have identified a number of areas that are suitable for this special format. Here are some of our key learnings.

1. Prepare a script, spokespersons & a pathway

A raw, unfiltered monologue straight-to-camera may be fine for YouTubers, but for brands who want to jump into live mobile video streams, preparation and scripting is key. As a company, we have always thought of live streaming as an interactive TV experience. And live TV has evolved as a format over the decades in order to drive optimal retention of viewership. Like Shakespeare’s three acts, there is a particular structure that works (and does not work) for live video, and despite the allure of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants broadcasting, brands should avoid it at all costs. Do not let your desire to jump on the authenticity bandwagon undermine a carefully crafted brand image.

First and foremost, a script needs to be prepared along with interview questions for spokespersons. However – in a marked difference from a traditional live broadcast which generally uses locked off cameras on tripods – the camera pathway of a live mobile broadcast needs to also be carefully planned. Live mobile video streams are unique in that they are incredibly agile and flexible. A live broadcast from a mobile phone offers a stupendously dynamic vantage point, so any live mobile video broadcast should exploit that freedom. However rather than walk around the environment ad hoc live on air, the camera op and presenter should have a pre-determined pathway that they will walk over the course of the broadcast to ensure both audio and visual fidelity, and spikes in activity. Plan your pathway like a whistle stop train tour, with the camera and presenter always moving towards a destination, but occasionally stop along the way to meet interesting people or to focus on unexpected/unusual/exciting events.

2. Get the right gear

A) Audio

The beauty of a live mobile video stream is that you technically only need a mobile phone to be up and running. But there are severe limitations to mobile phone technology. The biggest issue is a lack of decent audio. In video production, capturing audio is far more important than capturing visuals because you can always cut to another visual to cover up missed moments and cuts, but if you lose audio in the middle of an interview or a piece to camera, it is a bonafide disaster. The internal microphones on iPhones or smartphones offer pretty awful sound quality, and are easily overloaded by ambient room noise. Try to conduct interviews on the floor of a noisy convention centre (we have), and you will struggle to capture anything that the interviewer or interviewee says. To get around this issue, we built a custom mobile live video stream rig featuring external wireless microphones.

B) Batteries

Mobile phones are known for their poor battery life and nothing eats up a charge like live video streaming. From our tests, a fully charged iPhone can broadcast a live video stream for about 30 minutes before it dies. There are a number of iPhone external batteries out there, but none of them are built for heavy duty usage. In order to avoid our iPhones dying in the middle of a live stream, we built a custom external battery solution featuring multiple V-lock batteries. Now our iPhones can live stream all day without having to be charged.

C) Stabilisation

The best live mobile video streams should see the camera move through an environment. Camera movement however wreaks havoc on the quality of mobile video as every step shudders the camera lens, and the effect is compounded by rolling shutter and heavy compression of encoding. In order to minimize the amount of camera shake, you need to separate the phone from your body as much as possible. We use an iPhone camera stabiliser by Manfrotto called the Fig Rig.

D) Solid 3G or wifi are critical

It should go without saying that a solid 3G connection or a dedicated IP on a open wifi network are required before you start producing live mobile streams. Our best live streams were produced outdoors, where 3G or 4G signal was much more reliable. When we have had to work indoors, such as at a conference centre, we have had to use a dedicated IP over wifi to ensure we hit our minimum upload requirements.

3. Work with professional presenters

A good presenter is worth their weight in gold during live broadcasts. With only their wit and banter to work off, it is critical that they are able to react to interviews and situations live, as they happen, otherwise you will miss major entertainment opportunities or the audience will tune out. And presenting, is a genuine skill that takes years to master.

4. Open sunlight is best

Tiny lenses on phones and GoPros require a lot of light in order to produce a decent picture quality. But when you couple tiny lenses with live streaming compression and an unreliable 3G connection, the chances of a pixelated, muddy picture increase exponentially. The best way to solve this, is by live streaming in open sunlight.

5) Live streaming is live interaction

Every live stream should try to involve interaction between the presenter and viewers. Facebook Live works great when users ask questions in the comments which the presenter answers, and Periscope is built for interaction between live viewers and the broadcaster. For brands there are so many ways you can encourage interaction, such as live quizzes, snap polls, and presenter challenges. Of course, every live interactive broadcast does come with some risk of the odd negative comment appearing in the feed. To minimize the risk, broadcasts should shy away from potentially controversial or partisan narratives.

If you’re interested in learning what live mobile streaming can do for your organisation or brand, give us a call.