The Psychological Reason People Love Live Streams

If you haven’t heard of it by now, it’s time that you do: FOMO, or the fear of missing out, is an epidemic. It’s certainly no swine flu, which, speaking from experience, is no fun at all, but it is a widespread phenomenon that has noteworthy psychosocial effects on people. As shutterstock_434264908weird as it sounds, though, there are some
upsides to FOMO, one of them being that it has fostered a booming industry for live event streaming.

To better understand the appeal of live streaming in relation to FOMO, we need to understand why the human body triggers this kind of response in the first place, and to do that, we must go back to ancient times. Is Krog in the cave next door throwing a cave party without me? Do all the other dinosaurs not like me? OK, maybe not that ancient—but you get the picture.

According to clinical psychologist Dr. Anita Sanz, FOMO is a very, very old fear being triggered by a new stimulus: social media. Sanz claims that it began as a survival instinct of sorts, considering that at one point our survival as individuals within a tribe and as a species hinged on our being aware of threats both to ourselves and to the larger group.

“To be ‘in the know’ when we roamed around in small groups was critical to survival,” said Sanz on Quora. “To not be aware of a new food source, for example, meant you literally missed out on something that could mean the difference between life and death.”

Of course, Sanz recognizes that the way we keep each other in the know of important information and potential sources of danger has dramatically evolved since then. Today, we use forms of communication like TV, newspapers, the internet, and last but certainly not least, social media.

So, it makes sense that feeling like we’re missing out leaves an important enough impression to incite a reaction from us. It is literally hardwired into our brains. This is not to say that not making it to a music festival you’re seeing all over Facebook and Twitter is a matter of life or death, but for many people, social media is how they connect to their community, so it becomes a social lifeline of sorts. As we become increasingly aware of what the people around us are doing—often in real time and at hyper-speed—we don’t want to feel excluded.

This has not gone unnoticed by the big names in business and entertainment. In fact, they even incorporate peoples’ fear of missing out into their promotional strategies. If they’ve got a major live event coming up, like a concert, they may restrict access after the live stream of the concert ends. This means that if they don’t join in the moment, they miss out. And what if they miss out on something really, really good? It’s the “what if” that appeals to the FOMO in us. This has been duly noted and utilized by concert presenters like LiveNation and AEG.

Part of what makes live streaming so versatile, though, is that it can also ease peoples’ FOMO. According to a study by Eventbrite, 69% of millennials experience FOMO when they can’t attend something that their family or friends are going to. They might not be able to attend because of finances, distance, physical disabilities, etc. Whatever the case, live streaming allows them to really feel included and be a part of the event. And this is beneficial for brands, too: 67% of viewers who live stream an event are more likely to buy a ticket to that event or a similar one post-stream. Don’t underestimate millennials—they would rather spend money on experiences, like concerts, festivals, sports or parties, instead of buying tangible products. And aren’t experiences the most valuable thing of all?

The FOMO epidemic extends past concerts and festivals. According to Facebook’s own data, people comment ten times more on Facebook Live videos than regular videos. People are also watching these videos for longer, spending three times as much time watching Live videos as they do on-demand. BuzzFeed once live streamed a video of two people attaching rubber bands around a watermelon until it burst. It had 807,000 viewers at the end of its 45 minute stream.

Why do people even want to watch rubber balloons obliterate a watermelon, you ask? Nobody wanted to miss the moment that fruit finally went kaboom. The other 44 minutes of that stream was just a buildup to that sweet, seedy moment the watermelon burst. It was gratifying, and social media has kind of coddled us into a state of instant gratification. According to Dr. Susan Weinschenk, we navigate the web in a series of dopamine loops.

Said Weinschenk, “With the Internet, Twitter, and texting you now have almost instant gratification of your desire to seek. Want to talk to someone right away? Send a text and they respond in a few seconds. Want to look up some information? Just type your request into Google… Dopamine starts you seeking, then you get rewarded for the seeking which makes you seek more.” With live video, you have an environment that welcomes instant reactions and with which you can provide instant feedback. In other words, the process of watching a live event is rich in dopamine.

We gravitate towards live content because it is literally in our nature. We don’t want to miss out on critical information. We want to feel included. We crave suspense. We want to instant gratification. With live content, what you see is what you get, and there is a raw, visceral appeal in that, and this is something our psyche understands.