Serving two audiences can be tough… but rewarding

photo-1460794418188-1bb7dba2720d_825pxA sad fact is that a large number of conference speakers aren’t very engaging at all, even for the audience in front of them, never mind a remote audience viewing on their computers and mobile devices in another country and possibly even on a different day.

I don’t just say this to be contentious; the assessment is based on my personal experience having been involved in the conference and events industry sector for some 37 years. This is not intended as a criticism of the game folk who are prepared to stand up and present their expert knowledge to an audience. It is an acknowledgement that being the greatest micro-biologist, the most adept legal brain or innovative technologist does not automatically mean you are going to be a great conference speaker. Just because you lead your field doesn’t mean you are going to be a great communicator when you stand at the lectern and try to convey that expertise.

Of course with web broadcasting a conference there is a second remote audience to engage with, presenting further challenges to effective communication of ideas and knowledge and making it tougher still for the speaker.

For my first 25 years in this industry, part of my role as a conference producer was to help exactly these experts to give their best performance; to genuinely engage the audience in the room, in order to most effectively communicate their message. For the past 10 years or so, I have been involved with web broadcasting conferences and have come to understand the additional challenges and barriers to communication this presents. But I have also come to realise the opportunities it affords owners of conference content to create knowledge assets of lasting value. Opportunities, which to date for many organisations are going largely unexploited.

To see what I mean, make a web search for “association conferences and congresses” and take a look at the event websites that show up. I guarantee that still, in 2016, only a small percentage of them offer any significant opportunity for remote participation, live or on demand. Most organisations are missing out on a substantial opportunity for return on the investment they are already making in creating their conferences.

For most associations, conferences are their biggest investment and they are throwing much of the latent value of their events away by NOT capturing the content. Often the incremental cost of doing so, pales into insignificance compared to the value of extending the reach of their event and the membership retention and acquisition capabilities that building a library of specialist knowledge makes possible.

But it doesn’t come easy and it can take some time for this new way of accessing conferences to become established, to warm members up to engaging online and to become something that this wider audience comes to expect.

All the more heart-warming therefore, when statistics emerge to support the theory; when we are able to track progress over a number of years and see measurable success. One such case-in-point is Sedex, the Supplier Ethical Data Exchange, for whom we have live-streamed their annual conferences every year since 2012.

Sedex graphs
Sedex Annual conference – A story of increasing remote engagement

As an organisation they have got much better at communicating with their online audience before, during and after their annual conference. As a result, we have seen a marked upturn in viewing and interactivity levels as shown in these graphs.

Even more satisfying were the results of the post event survey following the 2016 conference;

  • 92.5% of respondents rated the live streamed event very good or good.
  • 97% of respondents rated live interviews that were streamed between conference sessions as very good or good.
  • 90% of respondents would join a live stream again.

But as I said, success doesn’t come easy and as live streaming conferences becomes more expected, it is vital that organisations give adequate thought, effort and resources into ensuring they have remote participants rather than just viewers.

Remote engagement is where the true value of web broadcasting lies.

When you look back, everything is different

“Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different?”

This quote from C.S Lewis seems very apt regarding the huge variation there has been in the web casting projects we have been involved in over the past few years, because at the time they somehow didn’t seem that dissimilar. They all involved a certain amount of preparation and development work. They all involved an assessment of client objectives, technical requirements, connectivity, audience sizes and so on. They all involved more or less equipment and personnel and they all involved delivering the recorded files either as live streams or as video on demand.

I guess part of it comes down to the diversity of our clients, who seem to cover most of the possible sectors; from medical and technological associations to global financial institutions; from small not-for-profits to even smaller businesses; from strapped-for-cash local authorities to cash-rich individuals; from cutting edge technology companies to organisations running traditional political debates. It seems there is no limit to the variety of organisation that has the need to spread their particular word and rightly sees streaming their events as the way to do it quickly and effectively.

Over the next few weeks I plan to tell the stories of just some of those events. I can’t promise anything to rival the Chronicles of Narnia, but then this is real life; not fantasy!

BeThere Global Wins Competitive Pitch for PASS Summit 2012

PRESS RELEASE
Recording and streaming experts BeThere Global to record and stream content from the world’s largest conference for Microsoft SQL Server professionals.

PASS Summit 2012 takes place in Seattle, Washington from 6 – 9 November and is attended by over 3,800 SQL Server professionals. With over 120,000 members in 188 countries PASS (Professional Association for SQL Server) is dedicated to helping the Microsoft SQL Server community to connect, share and learn. BeThere Global’s success is based on three fundamental principles – the belief that all conference recordings should be:

  • Compelling to watch
  • Compatible with the widest possible range of playback devices
  • Easy to purchase

“BeThere Global proposed an integrated and creative approach to PASS to suit our ‘tech savvy’ audience. We’ve created PASS TV, a live stream broadcast of three 12-hour days of technical sessions with an overnight replay. It’s a great concept and one that we’re exited to be sharing with our members”

said Thomas LaRock, PASS VP of Marketing.

“People don’t want to wait for a DVD to be produced, packaged and mailed anymore. On-line delivery is immediate, sustainable and secure”

explains BeThere Global CTO Mark Buckland.

“Today a viewer can catch a seminar wherever they are – at home, in the office cafeteria, during their commute – whenever there is a little downtime. It’s like a trade journal or a book; they bring it along and catch up when they can.”

PASS TV will offer a breakfast show in the mornings, social media reports and check-ins, interviews with key presenters, exhibit hall visits, and other PASS programming. There will be simultaneous recording with HD video of the presenters and their slides in 6 rooms, plus HD slide capture in another 10 rooms. The Keynotes will also be live streamed.

BeThere Global CEO Martin Shepherdly adds:

“We are helping PASS get more value from its content by making it more available and more compelling to watch. We will deliver live and on-demand HD quality video programming that will attract and support PASS’s, members and sponsors. We are recording over 400 hours of content in 5 days of conference using a crew of 8 local videographers to support our international crew from New York and the UK.”

– ENDS –

Making sense of it all

Today Association Event Planner published my latest guest blog in their Insider Views series, the message of which was about the need for associations to strategically consider the value inherent in their conferences and congress sessions and how they can get the best return on their investment. It is a reaction to and comment on the controversial speech delivered by Andrew Keen, who incidentally describes himself in his Twitter bio as “The Anti Christ of Silicon Valley”, at the International and European Associations Congress back in June, when he warned associations about the perils of losing their “exclusivity” by sharing content on line for free. You can see the full speech here – and yes it is free!

Shortly after I saw this had been posted my attention was drawn to a blog by Dan Rayburn about the YouTube live stream of the Felix Baumgartner Red Bull Stratos jump and the subsequent media hype over the number of viewers it attracted. It reminded me that its not only associations that are trying to make sense of how to profit from streamed content.

As Dan says

“Webcasting events live on the web has been going on for more than 15 years now and it’s time the media stops getting all giddy with bandwidth numbers and instead, starts asking the questions of how this medium can be monetized, when content owners will start to make money from live events and what changes need to take place in the market so that webcasts can be profitable events for content owners, as opposed to simply a way for someone to show off meaningless stream count numbers.”

I think he missed the point with this specific example, because clearly, as a blog comment by Daniel Demsky points out in no uncertain terms,

” It was a giant Red Bull commercial for crying out loud!”

That agreed, Dan’s point is sound for any content owners who are or are planning to stream their content live (or on demand); they need to consider very carefully the business case for so doing. Having millions, thousands, hundreds or tens of viewers – whatever scale of audience you aspire to – counts for nothing if you don’t have a sound reasons for streaming in the first place.

Don’t get carried away by the shiny technology; it has to make solid business sense or you are wasting time, effort and money.

Experiencing YouTube LIVE!

Artists perform at the Global Truce 2012 Concert in Derry
PHOTO: Newton Faulkner at the Global Truce 2012 Concert in Derry. Inset (clockwise) Imelda May, Pixie Lott, Jude Law
Backstage at Peace One Day Concert in Derry

A couple of weeks ago we had our first experience of streaming an event using YouTube live streaming… from this portacabin in Northern Ireland!

Now you may or may not be aware that this is something that is not generally available to your average Joe webcaster! They only launched the beta platform in April last year and as they said in their blog at the time;

“Today, we’ll also start gradually rolling out our live streaming beta platform, which will allow certain YouTube partners with accounts in good standing to stream live content on YouTube. The goal is to provide thousands of partners with the capability to live stream from their channels in the months ahead.”

And they are moving towards that goal with a growing number of accounts with access to the YouTube live platform, but the perception is that to date it has been presidential addresses, state visits, major news and sporting events and the like that have benefited from live streaming on YouTube – until now that is. Such is the power of a ‘good cause’ to get things done. In this case the ‘good cause’ was Peace One Day and its founder Jeremy Gilley simply phoned up a heavy hitter he had met at Google and asked if we could use the YouTube platform to live stream the Global Truce 2012 concert from Derry. The answer (after a modestly short delay) was “yes” and so our adventure into live streaming the YouTube way began.

All in all it was a very positive experience. We were supported every step of the way by our contact David Thorpe, Senior Sales Engineer at YouTube Partnerships who introduced us to the platform and held our hand through testing, both before and during our time in Derry.

To cut a not very long story short, everything went incredibly smoothly – both at the recording end of things in the Derry drizzle and at the YouTube bits and bytes streaming end. Given the 4+ billion streams a day YouTube delivers you probably won’t be surprised at that.

The Peace Bridge, Derry

(As an aside, despite the drizzle, Derry was a real pleasure to visit; a very friendly city with an immense amount of civic pride in the on-going regeneration, a very welcoming pub in the Park Bar and a striking Peace Bridge linking the two halves of the city – well we were only there for two days so it’s not a very comprehensive list.)

I’m hoping that BeThere Global CTO Mark Buckland will be writing a more technical appraisal, but in essence The YouTube interface was reasonably straightforward to navigate and the live statistics were very satisfactory, providing a clear and constant update as to the number of viewers connected, the peak viewing numbers and the average time viewed. Particularly interesting was a graphical depiction over a timeline of how many people were connected to the different bitrates we were streaming. If anecdotal eveidence is worth anything, the viewer experience seemed to be excellent, as I received many “wow it looks/sounds good” type messages of support from friends and family. Funny how they don’t seem to show as much interest in the corporate, scientific and financial events that we normally stream as they do when it’s Pixie Lott and crew! (Another aside; if you saw the concert weren’t the Wonder Villains great?)

Performers at the Global Truce 2012 Concert in Derry
PHOTO: Derry band The Wonder Villains. Inset Jeremy Gilley, The Guillemots

Overall the concert seemed to be a great success, both for the physical and the virtual audience.

The stream was viewed in 88 different countries and in total over 6000 hours of video was streamed to an audience that peaked at 2,529. Given there were only a matter of days to promote the live stream; a pretty good result in anyone’s book.

Now YouTube, how about making your excellent service available to us permanently?