Monday, 18 February 2013

Police channel Live!

I've been meaning to write up my opinions about live video in relation to the police service.

It follows some experience of using UStream, Bambuser and Google+ Live Hangouts as well as observations of early attempts to explore the use within the police service. There is certainly a case for forces to consider all social media channels including the live video options like Bambuser and Google+ Live Hangouts.

Most forces use Twitter, Facebook pages and YouTube as a minimum SM set, and choose to use others like Pinterest, Flickr, AudioBoo and Google+ pages as well. There are hundreds of SM sites and there is no force however large which tries to use them all. With every new major SM site which comes to the attention of forces, a decision has to be made about whether to join in or leave it out of the mix.

This decision is made more difficult as budgets are cut in all areas including those departments within forces who are held responsible for developing and maintaining the social media sites. Assessing and managing risk when using social media is vitally important for forces. Twitter is perhaps easier to manage than more complex sites like Facebook which has a huge range of variables to deal with and which tends to change its features and functionality regularly. The very nature of social media requires interactivity which requires forces to be constantly alert and monitor all the time. SM sites which utilise live audio, video and text messaging raises the risks considerably.

Forces would also have to consider the applications when live video would be most effective. Perhaps to broadcast a live meeting so that people who cannot attend in person can experience and even take part interactively.

This approach has been successful with the use of CoveritLive which uses typed text to both broadcast the event and take questions interactively. It goes without saying that to add live audio and video so remote participants can see and hear the meeting live would be an improvement to the experience. In fact, a live video experience will enhance any publicly arranged event which is designed to be seen by a live audience. 

How about live updates throughout a major incident? Would live video be suitable? Risk has to be a factor here. If a force is planning a press conference which is being covered by the live broadcast media, the risks for error or embarrassment are high and must be managed carefully. In this situation, every detail is highly planned and managed with hours spent briefing the presenting officers. Live police press conferences are conducted on police terms, not those of the journalists.

A recent example cited was a 43 second live video broadcast of a landlord making a statement. There was nothing in this broadcast which made it necessary to have been live. There was no live reaction from anyone else and the statement would have had equal effectiveness if it had been pre-recorded. This doesn't mean days and weeks after a particular event - pre-recorded could just mean to record the statement, check it back and then publish it seconds later.

The risk in doing this live was raised because there was no control about mistakes or a comment which may have come across in an unintended context. Because of this, it may explain why the statement was scripted and read from a a piece of paper. This video has been watched nearly 20,000 times since it was broadcast live in June last year but it only received 4 live views.

In contrast, another broadcast earlier in 2012 which featured live video of police dog puppies received 187 live views. This was a planned live event which was well publicised in advance and included a simultaneous live interview on the local radio station. Interactivity was handled live via the radio interview and throughout the broadcast via a Twitter hashtag question and answer session.

  I think it is important to consider how much broadcast TV is really 'live'. There is considerable risks for broadcasters too so they carefully risk assess everything they broadcast, especially the live stuff. Consider the BBC 10 o'clock news. This is a flagship programme which is broadcast live but look at it more closely and consider how much is really live. Before the broadcast, the entire news team will rehearse and check their equipment to ensure nothing will go wrong. The title sequence is recorded which links to the present who is live. But what the presenter says isn't ad-lib; everything is scripted in advance and delivered via autocue. This prevents the risks of stumbles, blips and hesitation. In addition to the live introduction will be an overlaid caption graphic and background graphics all of which will be prepared in advance. The first live piece to camera will be followed by a pre-recorded report, several minutes in length which would have been edited. In many cases, this will be followed by a live segment where the studio presenter interviews the reporter from a remote location. This pattern continues in this fashion and usually concludes with a live weather forecast. A live telethon, live chat show and live children's show reveals a similar story and is littered with lengthy pre-recorded clips.

It is interesting to note that only 9 minutes of an hour's programming on BBCNews24 was actually live; all the rest was pre-edited segments and reports. Of that 9 minutes, 5 minutes was the newsreader and 4 minutes was the weatherman. 90% of the newsreader's contributions were visually overlaid with pre-recorded material while the presenter voiced over them. The newsreader's voiced segments were 100% scripted via auto-cue. The weatherman's 4 minute slot was 'truly live'.  He didn't have a rigid script and was largely ad-libbing whilst changing his own graphics. So the question is - hats off to the weatherman for true 'seat-of-your-pants' live broadcasting. The newsreader by comparison had it easy.

The point to all this is that 'live' is not as easy as it looks; it requires planning rehearsals and is consistently interrupted by 'non-live' inserts. There will be situations which will suit live video for police services but certainly not all. In some cases the risks would outweigh the advantages and in other cases there just are no advantages regardless of the risks. The challenge isn't to take a new technology and try to find a fit for it. The challenge is to consider live video along with a range of tools and use it appropriately, either on its own or in combination with others for purposes which lend themselves to the medium.