Ashley Smith-Hammond

Streaming video has gone mobile, just like everything else in the digital world. Now it is a viable marketing option for businesses of all sizes. Learn how and why you might want to use live streaming for audience engagement.

way beyond simulcast performances

When you think of live streaming in the arts you might think of the pioneering work of Pilot Theatre or the live events in cinemas* from NT Live and the Royal Opera House. But the technology has come a long way in a short space of time and you can do much more with it than broadcast a performing arts event.

You don’t have to be tethered to a physical internet connection anymore. Streaming video has gone mobile, just like everything else in the digital world. Now it is a viable marketing option for businesses of all sizes.

Live streaming is a new a tool in the communications kit. Is it the right tool for the job you need to do? Here’s a laundry list of the kinds of jobs that it’s good at. Arts marketers might want to consider using live streamed video when:

  • You’ve got something really significant with a broad general interest or an enthusiastic niche interest – like a celebrity appearance. It is no accident that Facebook launched Live to celebrities first, before they opened up to people and brands.
  • You’ve got something important and time limited – such as a festival or a launch. For instance the Spotify House was live streamed at South By Southwest on Meerkat. The Met has been using Facebook live to build buzz and launch new exhibitions.
  • You can create drama around something that has the potential to go viral. The best example so far is surely Buzzfeed using rubber bands to make a watermelon explode. Yes that happened.
  • There’s something special that you can share from behind the scenes. The British Museum have given pre-launch exhibition tours via Periscope.
  • It widens access. Culture Republic has been using Periscope to make our monthly First Wednesday available to people who can’t travel to the live event. We’re getting good feedback from this effort.

Just like an in-person performance, live events add a sense of urgency and risk because anything can happen. This allows your audience to enjoy the feeling of being part of something as it unfolds. They can participate from a distance, watching from anywhere and on the device that they choose.

The technology had been trickling out into the marketplace. Now the trickle has become a torrent. A benefit is that marketers don’t need to go outside of the social networks they’ve worked so hard to nurture. Let’s look at some of the newer and more mobile friendly players to the live streaming game. The leaders  are (mostly) the main players online:

  • YouTube: All you need is an active YouTube channel. Because it’s a Google product, the analytics are especially strong.
  • Periscope: The live streaming app from the good people who brought you Twitter. User numbers are high for Periscope. Its integration with the social network will be the biggest benefit to organisations that have built up a significant Twitter following.
  • Meerkat: It was the first to launch. Meerkat is an independent live streaming app and as a result has a smaller community.
  • Facebook Live: It is the newest kid on the block in the live video game. Because of the enormous number of active users it commands, organisations willing to give it a go could see real impact. Plus, Facebook help you to pre-schedule and promote streams in advance to build awareness.
  • Livestream: We need to mention it because it was the pioneer in this space. It is an embeddable player that can be used on your webpage. It is not primarily a mobile to mobile tool like some of the other players above.
  • Not to fall behind, Vimeo is planning its own live streaming product later this year.

Make your decision based on where your community is, or where the community you want to serve is. Each channel offers different features and benefits, but it’s all a bit of an arms race. Expect constant change and innovation around these services. It’s likely  that even if the channel you’ve chosen doesn’t offer specific functionality this may be only temporary.

To get started you don’t need much in the way of special experience or equipment. A phone or tablet with the app installed for Facebook, Meerkat or Periscope. YouTube takes a bit more effort but they explain it all. You absolutely need a reliable, strong wifi or phone signal. For novice broadcasters, Poynter has a top ten list with great advice on the basics.

Streaming is a playful new tool that’s still developing, which means there’s lots of room for low risk trial and error. Arts marketers that know their audience will have an advantage deciding whether to, when to and how to use live streaming video. If you want to learn more about your on and offline audiences we can help. Just get in touch.


*If you are interested in the wider impact on audiences from live streaming into cinemas, try the Arts Council England review Understanding Event Cinema and watch for the upcoming research report on the live-to-digital market for theatre.


Main image credit: Live by G. Losnikov (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).