Almost everyone in the developed world is a content creator now; 400 hours of video content are uploaded to YouTube every minute. Content is constantly being created, and it’s everywhere. All the average person has to do is pick up a smartphone and press ‘record’. But for broadcasters, this represents a significant challenge in that they face competition for viewing time from every angle. After all, consumers only have so many hours in a day to consume video content.
For some time now, live video has been gradually entering the [streaming] mainstream and every year the technology gets better and better. In a modern environment where consumers ignore a lot of the video content they scroll through, live content has proved far more engaging than pre-recorded video. As competition increases in the foreseeable future, live streaming could be the key to winning the war for viewing time.
For one thing, live streaming is very appealing for those looking to grow audiences. Live streaming encourages meaningful reactions like commenting, because there is more incentive to comment on something that’s happening in the present. As most people with a social media account will know, once one of our friends reacts to a post, we are automatically shown it too. These viewers are called ‘soft’ viewers, because they may not have been initially interested in the live stream, but have been drawn to it by the reactions of their social media connections.
The media and entertainment industry can’t ignore that there has been a shift in viewing habits. Viewers no longer consume most of their video content via a television. So live streaming on the Internet will increase in importance for broadcasters looking to capture audiences in light of growing competition.
Competition for viewer attention isn’t the only reason that live streaming looks set to grow in popularity. We already see big brands using the format to great effect, but technological advancements seem promising and are likely to accelerate the growth of the medium further.
AR, VR, and 360° video have been much discussed over the last year and for good reason. Only recently Facebook launched what it called “the most accessible VR experience ever”, in the form of a new, more affordable VR headset called Oculus Go. Naturally, as VR becomes more wallet-friendly and accessible to consumers, content creators will find a bigger demand for immersive VR content.
The same is true of live 360° video. The introduction of 4K resolution may well prove to be the springboard for the format, given that many content producers worry that although the content is immersive, the quality is holding it back. In 2K, viewers are really only watching content that’s 500 pixels wide, since they can only view 90 degrees of a shot at a time. As 4K tech improves, this will push the advancement of live 360° content.
Earlier this year, Facebook announced support for 4K resolution for live 360° streams, so it’s clear that big companies recognise how important 4K is for the growth of the medium, but also vice versa. 4K resolution will become the norm, not only for live streaming but arguably for broadcasting as a whole.
Getting the Content Right
Live streaming, whether that’s in regular format, VR or 360°, works best for less traditional content. Often, I can’t help but wonder if some brands and organisations have streamed a live video just for the sake of ‘being live’. For broadcasters, live content can act as a supplement to more traditional broadcasts. Perhaps in the case of a popular soap opera, fans would be very interested in a live 360° tour of the set, but less enamoured with watching an episode in VR with little to no additional features.
This is where live streaming looks set to bring the most value for broadcasters, by offering a way for viewers to engage with content that they are already familiar with in a different way. And with better technology, we’ll see better uses of live video formats too. 360° video production is in the process of evolving from single-cam shots to multi-cam. This way, multiple cameras are used in different positions and angles, rather than one single camera, before the footage is stitched together using a vision mixer. The result is a 360° video offering a significantly more 3D view. This is also what allows the viewer to click on different sections of the video and look around.
Not only will this result in more immersive and engaging content (think of how effective this will be in 4K), but we’re also going to get more considered 360 content. That’s because with multiple cameras, content will be designed for the 360° format, rather than having a 360° camera just plonked in the middle of a set.
Intense competition for viewer attention means there is an impetus on improving the interactivity, and therefore the effectiveness of live streaming. It is my hope that improvements in VR, 360° and general live streaming technology will open up new realms of creativity. One such adaption is the inception of what could be called hybrid live experiences. In other words, a live stream where the viewer watches the events unfolding, but also interacts at the same time. The whole aim of this is to move the audience away from passive viewing, to active participation. If there is a reason for the audience to engage with a stream, it’s more likely that they will do so.
We at Groovy Gecko have been involved with augmented hybrid dramas of the same nature, one in particular which featured a live murder mystery viewed in first-person. Earlier this year we also live streamed a 360° element embedded within a 2D feed from a well-known motor racing event. When the presenter was speaking, one portion of the viewer’s screen was 2D, while the rest was a 360° feed from the grounds of the event. Viewers could look around the grounds and even experience what it felt like to drive a car around the events’ racetrack in 360°.
Much of the streaming sector relies on the steady advancement of tech, and sometimes this can’t keep up with the creatives in our field who use formats like 360° in amazing ways but often lacking in quality. But with the aforementioned developments, we should see further improvements.
Video in all its many forms is evolving fast. With new technology comes multiple platforms and more choice, both for what content the user chooses to consume, and where and on what platform they choose to watch it. Live streaming will have an important role to play here alongside other content offerings, particularly as its immersive abilities grow and additional live formats like VR and 360° flourish.