How live events grow audience while deepening community connections

An inside look at DDM's long-form video strategy

Thompson Coles | Product Manager: Live Streaming & Video, DDM | October 2, 2015

Editor's note: The is part two in a four-part series exploring DDM's video strategy. Read part one, the overview, here.

No one could have predicted the seemingly overnight explosion that was the rise of online video or the way that it completely shifted — not only our viewing habits — but completely disrupted many industries. Who could have imagined that this website called YouTube that was disregarded as a pointless cat video site would be the second largest search engine in the world serving billions of video views to people who can’t seem to get enough? Or to be an insider in the Blockbuster boardroom when the topic of Netflix mailing DVDs to a person’s home was discussed? It seems laughable now that Blockbuster didn’t see it coming until too late. I’m sure the idea that Netflix’s mail-order service would morph into direct content delivery over the Internet was never even imagined.

This is the world we are in now — a world where consumers expect to have excessive options for both education and entertainment at their fingertips. This is also where we, as an industry, are failing in terms of looking forward in our own communities. What do our customers/viewers want and expect, and what really matters when we look at how we cover events in our community?

As Russell Banz, our vice president of product, explained in a recent Innovation Wire article, Deseret Digital Media has a three-pronged approach to video: long-form video, short-form video and snack-size. That first prong, long-form video, allows us to be hyper-local and really connect with our community in a meaningful way.

Typically, long-form videos are longer than 10 minutes and can include a variety of content types: documentaries, sporting events, conferences and community events (like parades). They could also include newscasts and other styles of programming. For simplicity, I will focus on live events (sports, conferences and community events).

The unique opportunity these events have is that more often than not the largest viewing audience will happen while the event is live, and the production of the events will also be live. This saves in two ways: you are where your audience is when the event is important, and you are not required to pour resources into postproduction and editing.

There are a lot misconceptions about a live streamed event that seem to always come up when ever the topic of producing live events comes up:

1. It costs too much money.
2. We do not have the staff.
3. No one will watch it without insert reason: lots of cameras, great graphics, an announcer, THE LIST IS ENDLESS

Here is the truth about what really should be considered when looking to produce a live event:

1. Is the event important to your audience?
2. (Nope that’s it, no #2 needed)

We have learned that if your audience really wants to watch something, they will watch it — even if it is not up to television broadcast standards. Will some people complain that it doesn’t have some of those missing items from above? Absolutely, some will. But the vast majority will be grateful to you. They’ll realize they had no other resource to view the event, short of being there in person, and you provided that opportunity.

We have streamed many events where the video consisted of a single camera panning back and forth to cover the event. Periodically, the operator would take a shot of the scoreboard. Some were bothered that the production value was far less than they would expect from an outfit like ESPN, but most were grateful they could view the event at all.

At the heart of what a site can hope to accomplish when producing a live event is to effectively cover the event without breaking the bank. I’m not suggesting bad quality, rather good enough.

This thought process flies in the face of every instinct and lesson that I have been taught in my previous 17 years of broadcast, and it will do the same to anyone in the broadcast industry. Broadcast training is centered on creating the biggest splash with all the bells and whistles you can to make great TV.

Well this is not TV, and anyone who starts to lecture about how terrible it will look and that no one will watch it can be reminded of that. In the immortal words of my colleague Matt Sanders, senior director of DDM’s Publisher Solutions team, “keep it crummy as long as you can.”

Those words are so true! The difference in cost between a single camera covering an event live to the Web and a TV-produced event is enormous. This is why TV does not cover more “down home” local events; recouping the cost is too difficult.

Producing your own events is an endeavor that can solidify your place in the community and, as you’ll see in a minute, not all of the events that are produced even need to come directly from you.

So what does it take to create a live stream of an event? In its simplest form all you need is a camera, a computer, a method to get the video into the computer (capture card) and the Internet. Where you take it from there is limitless. The depth of gear and resources you can buy that will enhance your productions to make them television quality could fill chapters. When you are in the beginning stages think small and keep your ROI in mind. It takes a whole lot longer to pay off a $10,000 camera than it does a $300 one. In the basic beginnings they accomplish the same goal.

We have explored many ways to help generate long-form video that is engaging and relevant to the viewers. We suggest the following:

Involve your high schools

Many media organizations wear themselves out when self-produced events are the starting and ending points of their video strategies. It is important to produce some events, but when covering large areas and trying to produce everything yourself, the cost can get expensive quickly.

A number of high schools have broadcasting programs that students participate in. We have approached principals and teachers at schools with the concept that if they produce the event, we will place it on our website to get viewed. In those cases, we don’t even need any of our people at the event — the students handle the production; we just make sure the stream is working on our end.

We do not dictate the quality that we expect or equipment that they must use. We simply train on how to create a live stream. We also offer the schools the ability to place their own advertising into the production as a way to offset their cost. We only ask that they follow our advertising policy.

With schools handling the production, you can increase your coverage to geographic areas you might not otherwise have the resources to cover as often. This is a huge win in reaching more remote communities in your market. Once you provide them with an opportunity to live stream, you can see high schools covering a surprising number of events.

In addition to coverage of every high school sport you can imagine, we have streamed choir concerts, robot competitions, marching bands, dance performances and graduations. Each of these events is important to your audience, and now you’re the hero who cared enough to stream it for them. The cost to you for this hyper-local content is little to none.

Partnerships

In the same sense that we have schools producing their own events for us to stream, we have worked hard to partner with as many local media producers as we can to gather as many events as possible. There are many groups, cable networks and TV stations that would produce more if they had a venue to display it where people would actually view it. We provide a method for them to reach a broader audience and they reward us with content.

The basics of how this works is that we offer them exposure through our website, and they are able to place advertising within the produced event. We place our advertising as pre-roll and on the surrounding Web page.

Self-produced events

With schools and partners producing many of the events for your site, you’re free to focus your resources on strategic, significant events that you will produce yourself. This lets you keep some control over some of the must-see events that are important to your community. It also gives you a revenue opportunity for inside event advertising and sponsorships.

Producing live events is a great way to show direct involvement inside the community and it is an important activity — but avoid the pitfalls of trying to do it all yourself. In the process of deciding what events to cover, make sure that you have worked to gather content from as many low/no cost alternatives as you can.

One of the main ideas that we use is that there are tons of events to produce so you don’t need to be greedy. The goal is to have as many events covered in your community as possible and to let your audience know that it can consistently find events that matter to it on your site.

Long-form video is not always easy, but when done right, we’ve found it to be effective on many fronts. As mentioned above, it is just a piece of our overall video strategy. Over the next couple of months our video teams will share more about our short-form and snack-size video strategies that are generating tremendous buzz and page views.