Saturday, 1 December 2012

Live web broadcasting - a few notes

I have just watched West Midlands Police conduct their first attempt at a live broadcast using Google Plus and YouTube.  The result is embedded below:

I firstly wanted to say a big congratulations to Chief Inspector Kerry Blakeman and his team at West Midlands Police for organising this event and for taking the risk of being first in what is fast becoming an environment where risk aversion would normally stop this kind of thing at the first hurdle. We have to be willing to try out these technologies to push the envelope of new media and communication technologies. It will not go right first time and there will always be room for improvement but, all things considered, this was a really good 15 minutes of material.

I haven't joined a live video broadcast online before.  My first concern from about 20 minutes before the 'go live' time was "Am I in the right place?". If you go to a real event, show, meeting or concert there is a build-up to the main event.  The first reassurance is that others have also arrived so you're in the right place. You then progress through a series of other activities; talking to others, buying a drink, reading the programme or the meeting agenda, taking your seat, listening to the audience announcement about switching off mobile phones, the dimming of the lights and finally - the event actually begins.

In my opinion, an online meeting would benefit from these experiences too. It would be reassuring to know you're in the right place. Google plus just didn't give that reassurance and I wasn't sure if the page I was waiting on was going to work or not.  In the end, it didn't.  I was waiting on the 'Events' page and when 6 o'clock arrived, nothing happened.  I switched to YouTube and found the correct channel but there were links to 2 live events. I tried them both but neither of them had started and by this time it was 6:02pm. I then checked Twitter and found a link to a different looking kind of YouTube page which started playing - the event had clearly already started. If you check the start of the recording above, Kerry starts his introduction within 5 seconds of the beginning (and the pause was only to let the sirens die down in the background). Even if you were sitting on the correct page, there is no way you can check sound levels are right or adjust the page to your liking in that short time. In previous Google+ hangouts, it takes at least 4 or 5 minutes for everyone to get themselves sorted out, say hello, check their video and audio is right before things start to happen.

So here are a two suggestions:

Start broadcasting a picture and audio at least 10 minutes before the event is due to start.  In this case it could have just been the traffic and sirens.  This would reassure anyone that everything is working and they're in the right place. In these conditions a prompt start would be all that is required but it could be beneficial to indicate a 3-2-1 minutes to go.

Keep it all in one place. Comments were coming in on Twitter and there were further comments displayed next to the video stream and also under the Event comments. Kerry was checking Twitter for questions but there was also activity on both the other areas. If at all possible, the meeting room/webpage should contain everything needed for the session.  CoverItLive tends to deal with this quite well as it brings in Twitter into the same environment as the video.  All of this can be embedded into a web page which can itself provide additional material if needed.

I think Google plus has a way to go before it gets these things right. The interface is too complicated unless you've spend a long time with it. To be useful in this context, it needs to welcome people in who haven't tried G+ before and I think CoverItLive can deal with this better at the moment. The relationship between G+ and YouTube is expected but it also sets up two different locations to view from.  I can't see the appeal in providing the live stream directly inside YouTube if it is also there to be used in G+. Better to just conduct the entire event in G+ to provide that 'all-in-one' location and simply archive the entire thing to YouTube when it's finished. This allows YouTube to continue to do what it does best - I really don't think YouTube works as a live video destination.

The overall takeaway for me is to replicate that reassurance you get when taking part in something that is truly live. This may have to include a pre-gathering, the event itself and an after-show party for those wishing to continue their discussions and share their opinions afterwards.

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