The New Era of Activism: Live Streaming

shutterstock_343121396The revolution will not be televised, but it may be streamed. Live streaming platforms have paved the way for citizen journalism as a form of social activism. It is an accessible and immediate method of news documenting which allows anybody with a smartphone or other web-enabled device to broadcast events on a global scale, in real-time. In this way, it empowers average citizens to serve as critical eyewitnesses to social injustices and demonstrations as they happen, especially in the presence of law enforcement that intends to suppress any immediate or subsequent backlash.

Live streaming began to establish itself as a raw alternative to traditional cable news as well as a powerful tool in organizing, mobilizing, and broadcasting resistance with the beginning of the Arab Spring in 2010. Since then, it has come into its own through social media and bled into other movements such as Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter. The authenticity of somebody on the ground who is unassociated with larger, strait-laced news outlets that are often censored is something that is difficult to replicate because live content is just that–live and unaltered.

Consider Occupy Wall Street, a movement protesting social and economic inequality that began in mid-2011. When police pushed back against peaceful protesters, it was not CNN that broke the news. Occupy gained momentum through the work of citizen journalists such as Tim Pool, who documented the most vital moments of the movement, with streams lasting as long as 21 hours. According to New York Magazine, when the NYPD violently evicted protesters from Zuccotti Park on November 15th, Pool was the only journalist broadcasting from inside the park. More than 750,000 people tuned into his live stream that day and Occupy grew to be one of the biggest stories of the season with the aid of Pool’s ongoing narrative.

Citizens and activists who provide firsthand narrative in a crisis situation can and have been able to use live streamed content to their advantage and that of others. Aside from having the power to broadcast and publicize events as they happen, they are also creating archived footage after the fact which can serve as evidence in cases of legal action (or inaction). This is common in cases of police brutality. The citizen witness transcends physical barriers to allow viewers to serve as secondary witnesses, opening up the possibility of a much larger audience to essentially play the role of judge, jury, and executioner in situations that call for it.

In a piece for WIRED Magazine, an activist described an incident while protesting the Olympic games in Rio de Janiero, explaining to a police officer who approached him to conduct a search that 5,000 others were watching on a live stream. The activist was arrested, however, the video evidence attracted support that called for, and ultimately secured, a quick release. In this case, the camera acted as a tool for holding law enforcement accountable, possibly deterring a police officer from using excessive force with the knowledge that he had an audience of thousands.

The same cannot be said of police officers who utilize excessive force in the United States. Although there is video evidence of the police killings of unarmed black civilians like Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, and Walter Scott, not enough has been done in the way of persecuting the officers responsible. The shooting of Michael Brown, which incited riots that brought the Black Lives Matter movement to the forefront, was filmed on a cellphone by a bystander. Videos like these, which only became public after the fact, shed light on the systemic racism and violence towards black people in America that Black Lives Matter actively campaigns against.

On July 6th, 2016, Diamond Reynolds began a Facebook Live stream just seconds after her partner, Philando Castile, had been shot seven times by an officer during a routine traffic stop. Castile, who had been fully compliant, was mortally wounded. From the moment Reynolds began streaming the daunting aftermath–keeping her composure throughout–she became a citizen journalist. The systemic racism and institutional bias that lead to Castile being murdered were captured by Reynolds and broadcasted to a massive audience in real-time a way that others would have never been able to report. This was real. This was now. This was grief, and this kind of thing had been happening for years. Philando Castile died 20 minutes later.

Citizen journalism is often what generates media coverage for movements like BLM, but in some cases, it is the only kind of coverage. The Arab Spring was a series of uprisings and anti-government demonstrations across the Middle East which were most concentrated in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Yemen. In areas like regime-controlled Egypt, civilians lacked concrete access to information and freedom of speech. The internet offered an environment open to anti-regime sentiment, in which people were able to express themselves and diversify their perspectives. It also became a powerful tool in organizing and broadcasting their dissent, which gathered international attention and aided in sparking a revolution. With just a phone and an internet connection, protesters in the region were defying their governments by recording demonstrations and sharing them with the world. In this way, they were able to control their revolution’s narrative.

Year In Review: What You Streamed In 2016

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Sentimentally looking back as we enter a new year has long been tradition, and it gets easier each year as technology advances and everything is streamed, recorded, and archived. 2016 was a landmark year for a multitude of reasons, and live streaming was how we collectively viewed those reasons. Among those surveyed by Livestream, 81% of people said they watched more live video in 2016 than last year. The ability to be present without being present thanks to live streaming technology has made an audience out of us all, whether we were cheering, jeering, marveling, or mourning as we watched the year in politics, television, sports, technology, and more unfold on our devices. Here are some of the most memorable events we streamed in 2016.

Elections

The results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election will live on in infamy, and it had the audience to prove it. Akamai Technologies, a popular content-delivery network provider, counts live streaming of election night as the single biggest live internet event ever carried by its network. According to Akamai, election-specific traffic peaked at 7.5 terabits per second on the platform. In comparison, live video streaming of the first presidential debate between Clinton and Trump in September peaked at 4.4 Tbps.

Other live video platforms did not miss out on the election night action, either as standalone broadcasts or via channels of partners. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, CNN Digital, NBC News Digital, CBS, USA Today, and more also delivered this historic election to viewers’ homes, phones, and laptops, seeing record numbers across the board. CNN Digital recorded its largest global audience with 27.7 million streams of its election coverage, with total video starts for election day coming in at 59 million. NBC News Digitals saw more than 120 million video starts, its highest total to date.

Make no mistake, Kim Kardashian—this time it was Donald Drumpf who broke the internet.

Sports

Forget about marriage—sports are what truly bring us together, and 2016 was a good year for being brought together (or competing against one another, depending on who you ask). The Olympics are about togetherness, and they were held in Rio de Janeiro this past summer. Although viewership was lower among traditional TV viewers, Rio 2016 was the most streamed Olympic event ever. By Tokyo 2020, it is predicted that live streaming will be the most popular way to watch the Olympics, but that’s a story for another time.

The record numbers that Akamai saw on election night were previously held by last summer’s European soccer finals. Euro 2016 saw record viewership in Europe throughout the competition. To no one’s surprise, France and Portugal, who saw their teams through to the final, set new records for the Euros as the most-watched program in their respective countries. But everyone loves a good underdog story, and underdogs were not amiss last year: to everyone’s surprise, Iceland made it to the quarterfinals. 99.8% of Iceland’s modest but excitable population tuned in to watch their ragtag team play England, shattering all previous records in the tiny Nordic nation.

Back in the United States, Super Bowl XLIX became the third most watched Super Bowl broadcast in U.S. history, raking in an average of 1.4 million viewers a minute on CBS’ live stream and 115.5 million viewers overall.

TV

Statistics are coming. 2016 saw the return of some television behemoths which have since become streaming behemoths. HBO’s most popular series of all time, Game of Thrones, returned with its sixth season in April. According to Entertainment Weekly, the show averaged over 23 million viewers per episode overall, up 15% from the previous year. Its season finale was watched by 8.9 million people, a new high for the show. This may be attributed to the HBO Now platform, a streaming subscription which allows those without HBO on cable to stream the show in real time.

And stream they did. Viewership of this season of Game of Thrones on HBO Now and HBOGo went up by over 70% from last year. The real time aspect is key to viewers—nobody wants to be late to the party and see spoilers for an episode ten minutes after it airs, especially when central characters are being killed off left and right. Another show that sees numbers skyrocket after the deaths of beloved characters (spoiler alert!) is The Walking Dead, which also premiered its sixth season earlier in 2016. According to a study by Frontier Communications, it was the most streamed live TV event in Texas and Virginia.

3 Reasons to Cancel Your Cable Service for Online TV Streaming

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Many of us can relate to coming home after school when we were younger, having a little snack and plopping down in front of a screen, waiting for our favorite shows to come on. This was the original method of viewing television, and very soon, it may be a thing of the past. Cord cutting is the act of swapping traditional TV subscriptions (or “cutting” the cable cord) for online streaming services, with what is presumably much to the dismay of TV executives. The trend of saying goodbye to cable services only continues to grow, and it has for some time now.

Households have been slashing subscriptions in droves for the last few years and more people have stopped paying for TV service in the last quarter of 2016 than in any previous quarter, ever. According to studies by Leichtman Research and Convergence Consulting, one in five American households did not subscribe to pay-TV at the end of 2015, with 1.1 million cutting cords that same year. This figure is estimated to be roughly 22%, or 26.7 million households in 2016.

But enough about statistics. It is clear that attitudes are changing along with viewing habits. David Tice, senior vice president of GfK’s media and entertainment practice, brings to light the fact that some millennials are the first true generation of “cord-nevers”, or those who have always used streaming services in lieu of traditional TV. According to Tice, what seems to be concerning TV bigshots is the fact that older households who are able to, and have in the past, pay for cable subscriptions are choosing not to. Tice believes this marks cord cutting as a lifestyle choice rather than just an economic one.

Paying only for what you watch.

On average, cable costs around $99 per month, with premium packages ranging up to $300 a month. If that seems like an exorbitant amount to pay for TV, that’s because it is. Exclusive channels such as HBO or ESPN, should you choose to subscribe to them, can add up to $6.04 per channel to your bill. While adding these channels is up to consumers, they are also continually paying for ones they do not watch or even want, as they come pre-packaged in subscription bundles without much in terms of leeway.

Say, for example, that you’re a fan of The Walking Dead who does not care for the weather, the news, or cooking shows because you only care about zombies. Adding a Showtime package to a Time Warner subscription costs an extra $15 per month, with a basic TV package starting at $29.99 per month when bundled with other services. In comparison, Showtime’s streaming service with up-to-date episodes costs $11 per month with no other commitments. A basic Netflix subscription with all previous episodes of The Walking Dead excluding those currently airing costs $8 per month.

In essence, while the TV aspect of online TV streaming may initially cost a little extra, it’s nothing compared to the cost of cable. Hardware that connects streaming services to your television is a one-time purchase comparable to the price of one month of cable. There’s Roku ($50), Apple TV ($129), Chromecast ($35), and Fire TV ($40 – $100), with the Roku streaming stick standing out as the best bang for your buck in terms of quality and affordability.

Watching what you want, when and where you want.

Unlike in days long past when screens were black and white, programming was limited to a handful of channels, and restrictions on TV would never, ever allow for Game of Thrones to air, there are options now—perhaps to a fault. While some people like the idea of having hundreds of channels to choose from, others realize that many of these channels go unwatched. In this culture of excess, being able to pick and choose the content you want (and then binge watching it until four in the morning) can be a blessing.

In January 2014, Netflix had 6,494 movies and 1,609 TV shows. While it is difficult to quantify exactly how much you can access on a traditional subscription service on any given day (presumably a lot), you don’t necessarily know what you’re getting. On-demand services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video are up front about exactly what they offer, so you can stream what you like, when you like without the unwanted sensory overload. With cable and satellite, on-demand and pay-per-view is often either limited in selection or an extra expenditure. The image of one’s younger self waiting for a show to air at a specific time comes to mind.

Of course, there are some drawbacks. As previously mentioned, some services like Netflix do not offer episodes of shows which are currently airing. For this kind of service, there are streaming packages for premium TV channels such as HBO and Showtime, which can be standalone subscriptions or added onto more integrative platforms such as Hulu Plus.

Mobility and flexibility.

You can’t take it with you. This, of course is in reference to terrestrial cable and satellite. Ideally, paying an exorbitant amount for an entertainment platform in 2016 would guarantee that you can fit it on your smartphone and in your pocket. While this cannot be said of traditional TV packages (considering the clunky cable box or satellite dish), essentially all on-demand streaming services have a mobile app, and can be accessed almost anywhere with an internet connection.

Brow-raising prices on cable subscriptions also come with contracts, and those contracts come with fees for cancellation, late payments and the like. For those of you with commitment issues, online TV streaming just makes sense; starting at $8 a pop, you have instant access to an entertainment library that you can cancel at any time you like.

So, binge watchers, sports addicts, and film buffs, don’t despair—there are plenty of flavors of streaming platform to choose between for when you part with your current cable provider.

Alternatives to YouTube: Battle of the Video Platform

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You’re browsing the web, and you want to watch a funny video of a baby and cat or look up the Pen Pineapple Apple Pen video for the hundredth time. (Go ahead, look it up). Which site comes to mind first? If anyone were to take a guess, it would probably be YouTube. YouTube is considered the world’s top video sharing platform. Roughly 500 hours of content is uploaded every minute and the Google-owned site acquires more than 1 billion unique visitors each month. It is definitely the video platform users are most familiar with, and that familiarity comes with its advantages.

It is important to remember, however, that its primary function is for entertainment and sharing content, not hosting—so hold back on the cat videos for now. Aside from YouTube’s popularity and ease of use, one of its main appeals seems to be the one users see reflected in their wallets: it’s free. The downsides? Well…

  • Pre-roll video ads
  • Limited ad revenue through AdWords
  • Users must give up distribution rights to content
  • YouTube bot detects and shuts down videos and streams with copyrighted music
  • Limited customization and branding: videos contain the YouTube logo and lack design features which are essential to many businesses to maintain brand equity
  • Users lack control over ads and other content: spam, offensive content, and negative social engagement can reflect poorly on businesses
  • Limited embedding functionality
  • No technical support

For organizations and small businesses with an array of hosting and streaming needs, this means it may be time to look elsewhere. Thankfully, there are options.

Vimeo

Vimeo is a video hosting platform for creative content, and has a shining reputation for just that. It is recognized for being a community built on professional, high quality videos. Because there are higher quality contributors, there is less poorly made content to wade through. With its integrity and aesthetically pleasing cinematography that is frankly just nicer to watch, Vimeo is a great contender among platforms of its kind. Major aspects that set Vimeo and similar professional-level platforms apart from YouTube are its lack of third party advertisements, bandwith caps, or time limits on video content for Plus, Pro, and Business users. On the other hand, Vimeo users have to deal with upload limits regardless of plan. It also touts just over 170 million viewers per month, which is far less traffic than on YouTube—about 20% less, in fact.

Quality vs. quantity is the question that comes to mind, especially when considering the higher bitrates and high quality 4K video that Vimeo supports. Other features include advanced analytics and a range of privacy settings, including password protection. While both YouTube and Vimeo have free plans with limited options, Vimeo’s paid plans are cost effective. Also similarly to YouTube, it is not ideal for technical support, especially when it comes to live streaming—responses take between 4 hours on business days and 24 hours on weekends. Of course, the difference here is that there is still tangible customer support.  All in all, Vimeo is a wonderful and viable alternative for video hosting and streaming.

ServerRoom 

For a dedicated hosting and streaming service, ServerRoom might be considered the complete package. It is a feature-rich, higher end video platform that is definitive of what higher end services have to offer, and like other services with paid plans, it leaves advertisements as well as time and bandwidth limits at the doorstep. Going one step further, it offers unlimited storage and unlimited plays which, surprisingly enough, YouTube also offers (but Vimeo does not). Unlike YouTube, all aspects of what the viewer sees is controlled by the host. For professional organizations, having control over what your viewers see before, during, and after your video content is not just preferable, but necessary. This is significantly easier to do with the addition of white label players offered by ServerRoom, which allows for complete customization.

Despite being a dedicated service with all the bells and whistles, ServerRoom is still just that—dedicated. All paid plans come with 24/7 phone and chat support without sacrificing quality, which cannot be said of other contenders. Advanced include user analytics, adaptive multi-bitrate streaming, and VAST Ads integration for easy monetization, On the other hand, it is also on the higher end in terms of cost, but makes up for it in substance—substantive content leads to more substantive user engagement, which makes ServerRoom a worthy investment for your business or organization.

How to Grow Your Audience with Live Streaming

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If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Likewise, if one streams live content to no audience, did they stream anything at all?

By now, it shouldn’t come as a surprise—online video is a powerful tool that is loved by consumers around the world, and its popularity and usefulness are only going to continue to grow. But the ‘live’ aspect of live video is an element that taps into the fear of missing out that people tend to have. It is a form of video marketing that is time-sensitive and entices consumers with the illusion of exclusivity. In this way, it makes them want to engage with live video content here and now (or whenever your stream begins).

The statistics can confirm this. Live video generates ten times as many comments as on-demand video. There’s more of an incentive to tune in, and that generates the kind of positive buzz that is needed to build a brand. A good way to think of live streaming is FaceTime between you or your event and your specific audience. Jim Toben, the president of Ignite Social Media, describes live streaming as “trust content”, because it allows brands to have face-to-face time with their audience. This allows viewers to connect to your content in a personal way, which makes it an extremely effective way of communicating to consumers.

So the question to ask is, how does one get an audience to tune in and stay tuned in?

Generating Buzz.

Getting people talking is the best way to ensure that your stream picks up momentum and maximizes its potential viewership before it even begins. Create event pages on Facebook, LinkedIn, and the like. This is free to do and grants exposure on social media, which draws in new viewers. If you are streaming a live event, announce it well in advance. In general, large scale events should be announced six to eight weeks prior, and can be followed up with reminders on social media. Hashtag blessed, anyone? Generate a relevant, catchy, and memorable hashtag, add it to all of your event content, and encourage your viewers to to share on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. It’s a simple way to create brand recognition and spread the message.

Providing Value.

Perhaps the most important thing is to provide an experience that makes viewers feel that their time spent on a stream is time well spent. Familiarize yourself with your audience enough to know what they want, and make sure that they know that they are on the receiving end of valuable video content. For example, a live stream for a business may give viewers a first look at exclusive new products. Apple does this all the time, and one might say that they’re pretty successful. Similarly, a musician may give his or her viewers a sneak peek at a new song or a church may drop a hot new sermon for their respective audiences. Essentially, ask yourself why the viewer should tune in and be able to answer accordingly.

Engagement.

Engaging with your audience is not just suggested, but critical. One cannot participate in FaceTime if there is nobody on the other end. Keeping viewers interested in a live stream calls for interaction. This can be done by using platforms that enable commenting and live chat. Facebook Live is a good example of live stream chats done right, as it allows the streamer to view comments as they are made and respond accordingly, which facilitates two-way conversation. Of course, any successful streaming platform has a recording feature that saves your live content as on-demand video for later viewing. It is important to continue the conversation beyond the stream and respond to questions and comments.

Timing.

According to Adobe, attendees of leadership webinars watched for an average of 54 minutes. Audiences in gaming live stream communities such as Twitch have been known to watch as many as six hours of gaming streams. User engagement is dependent on the users themselves in tandem with the content being presented, which is why a streaming platform that comes with user analytics is so important. This way, it is easy to track who watches what and for how long. On a larger scale, however, webinars held on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday are recorded to have the best attendance in a survey of over 7000 events conducted by ON24. It is best to have work or business related events mid-week, but of course, this should be taken with a pinch of salt—again, it depends on your specific audience. As a general rule of thumb, keep it concise and engage viewers early. A study by Wistia exhibits that the more viewers you can hook for, say, the first two minutes of a sixty minute stream, the longer they are likely to stay.

Feedback.

The fun shouldn’t end when the stream ends. Data from the same study suggests that the best way to keep users engaged is with interactive activity and feedback. Afterwards, ask viewers about their experience. What did they like? Dislike? Feel ‘meh’ about? What was the best part? What did they gain from the stream, and what can you do to improve the next one? This is only one way to extend engagement past the live stream, although it can also be done livethat’s encouraged! Polls are a useful tool for both receiving feedback and getting people involved. In fact, the highest participation among interactive activities during live video streams (when offered) is with polls. Always keep in mind that the audience, who in this case happens to be the person your video content is FaceTiming, is an integral aspect of the live stream.