How Interactive Are Your Live-Streaming Events?

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Thanks to the ever-cheaper world of digital media, it costs less every month to distribute or stream video, images and other content to and from events. While it’s certainly still not cheap to live-stream events well (see last weekend’s TheRumble2012 live-streaming debacle as proof), scaling is the real issue here, not technology or money.

But access isn’t enough. For live-streaming experiences to match or exceed their in-person counterparts, it’s important to offer that one thing most people attend conferences for in the first place: interaction.

SocialFish agrees. In their recent blog post, they recommend integrating social streams, including surveys and polls, and offering live Q&A sessions. While we agree these three are important, we have a few more suggestions to make your online experience rock.

Provide A Moderator
When we say moderator, we’re not talking even a Jim Lehrer level of involvement, but simply someone with enough power to ban users, moderate the worst comments and answer any technical questions. This means your moderator absolutely needs to be in touch with your marketing and IT teams during the event, and not just some kid working for a large NYC company. Give this person power, access and enough responsibility to look after the event fans’ best interests. And please tell them not to use text speak unless necessary.

Cap Your Tickets Sold
As TheRumble2012’s failed live-stream shows us, scaling live video online is hard. Instead of irresponsibly selling as many tickets as possible, try charging a bit more for guaranteed access. Would you rather have your service work perfectly for 5k people or not at all for twice that? As a long-time customer of similar live streams, I can say I’d much rather not watch a poor live-stream and download the footage immediately afterwards than suffer through poor performance during the event.

Contact The Big Boys
Windows Azure runs a number of high-profile online events (Olympics, some of the NFL offerings, Microsoft worldwide product launches). Azure and similar large services are better equipped to handle such massive undertakings than the boutique digital shop that employs cool-dressing hipsters and ‘found a great deal’ on overseas hosting and redistribution equipment. Trust them.

Live-streaming correctly is worth the time and expense. After all, even if your offering is full of interactive opportunities, does it matter if no one can access it?

Live Streaming The Right Way

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No matter the event budget, technology available or planning involved, live streaming events still isn’t a fool-proof process. From faulty local setups to server issues to client-side problems, live streaming has a way to go before it’s as reliable as TV programming.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t be really, really great. With technologies like Windows Azure available, budget and planning are often the only obstacles when offering decent live streaming in HD (720p, usually) for those who can’t be there in person.

While we’re not huge fans of live streaming without the aforementioned budget and planning considerations, we have and will continue to promote such as complementary options or value adds for event attendees. We will always believe the true power of events is in the personal contact, but know that live streaming’s convenience is a huge plus. Just remember to set expectations.

Be Honest About Bandwidth
While most residential cable connections can handle live streaming, it’s important to remind viewers that all other network traffic should be kept to a minimum. Downloading large updates, using web-based apps or uploading files should be done sparingly in order to keep your live stream flowing correctly.

Allow For Buffering Delays
Live streams will occasionally freeze. While most techies accept this as part of the deal, non-computer-savvy folks may be annoyed at this. While most live-streaming tech dynamically buffer their streams to allow for interruptions in traffic, letting your viewers know ahead of time will ease much of their worry.

Keep Pricing Reasonable
Seldom are event planners able to recoup live streaming costs via paid viewers alone. While we like charging a fee of some kind to help offset costs, recruiting a sponsor or even showing very short ads is likely to work better. Live streaming, at least for most current events, is far more of a marketing/advertising line item than a true attendee offering.

We’re eager to see how The Rumble 2012, featuring Bill O’Reilly and Jon Stewart, works out this Saturday. Have you signed up?