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Livestream: Not Yet Mainstream But Clearly a Game Changer

Streaming events in real-time alters the dynamics for event organizers, impacting the scope of the audience, press coverage and sponsorships. Livestream is a key provider of real-time event coverage services–and while Mitt Romney’s infamous forty-seven percent fund raiser video wasn’t livestreamed, many A-list happenings are: examples include the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute gala, The World Economic Forum in Davos and the Times Square ball drop on New Year’s Eve.

PRNewser spoke with Jessica Kantor, livestream’s head of marketing and content, at November’s Digital Hollywood conference and met recently with Kantor and her colleague, Sam Kimball, EVP of advertising and brand sales, at Livestream’s New York office (left) and here. Below are highlights of our conversation on the Livestream model.

Elements of Livestream’s successful equation include:

1. Brand snapshot and evolution: “To viewers, Livestream is entertainment and live TV”, Kantor explained. “Anyone in the world, both individuals and companies, can broadcast their events”, Kimball added. Viewers can also see past events by accessing Livestream’s online channels.

Adoption of Livestream during the past five years has been steady, but it wasn’t easy early on. “Event organizers may have been nervous at first, since nothing replaces being there in person”, Kantor said. “Livestream isn’t mainstream yet, though more people use it now.”

2. A myriad of usage occasions. Entertainment and music events are popular, and musicians often tape segments at Livestream’s studio as part of their press tours. Livestream is also available overseas, and “as long as an internet connection exists, you can go live”, Kantor noted. Livestream’s most remote customers without internet acces, such as SpaceX and the Volvo Ocean Race, need to rely on a satellite feed and proprietary equipment.

Political candidates frequently Livestreamed events this fall; Kantor said that Obama’s campaign used the service extensively. “The President’s dedicated video team made it a priority, including the final rally with Bruce Springsteen and Jay Z”. Another political customer is Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who Livestreams his press conferences. (They’re also entertaining, thanks to his sign language interpreter.)

3. Far-reaching impact: “Livestreaming democratizes events by expanding the reach of the conversation”, Kantor said. “Events can now be shared online on a mass scale.”

  • Bigger audience: Livestream now boasts thirty-five million unique monthly visitors–and its audience of younger viewers is rapidly expanding. Extreme weather has also increased viewership.
  • Broader press access/coverage: Streaming events in real-time also extends press access and coverage to media in far-flung locations. As Kantor observed, “For the press, experiencing events in real-time beats reading pre-event press releases.”
  • Social networking options: Networking is key to the appeal of attending events in person, but Livestream attendees can network via social media. That way they can participate in related Q & A sessions (which might get contentious). As Kantor said, “People tend to be less polite online.”
  • More sponsorship appeal: Sponsors like the prospect of reaching more viewers. Last October, Chase bank sponsored a Robin Hood Foundation benefit event featuring a Black Eyed Peas concert in Central Park. As Kimball noted, “Chase was the indirect beneficiary since Livestreaming expanded the audience beyond the crowd in the park.”

Challenges: While Livestream has overcome major obstacles, other issues remain.

  • Branding leverage: From a branding perspective, the 2009 name change from Mogulus to Livestream has been advantageous, since the new name clearly describes the service offered.
  • Technological improvements: “Advances in technology have also made livestream come to the forefront”, Kantor said. In particular, the company has benefitted from faster internet speeds that enable the rapid transfer of data. Widespread adoption of smartphones and tablets has increased mobile attendence.
  • Discovering content: “We have a ton of content online now on our channels, and the challenge is how to serve it to an audience so they can discover it”, Kantor said.
  • Planning ahead: Advance notice is important, Kantor said, since the decision to use Livestream often occurs at the last minute. “We’re used to turning it around quickly, but planning earlier in the process would help.”
  • Competitive category: Livestream is not the only streaming option in the market–competitors abound. Ustream offers similar services, though its service includes ads shown during live event broadcasts. YouTube Live is a service only offered to high level partners, and it doesn’t have a self-serve option…yet. (Interestingly, Livestream and Google are headquartered in the same building.)

Looking forward: Kimball foresees new opportunities developing in the world of live video. As Kantor said, “Our goal is to be THE destination for live events”. Changes are coming: Livestream plans to introduce a new product at the upcoming CES/Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

In the meantime, Livestream will broadcast the Times Square ball drop at midnight on December 31. Almost everyone watches some kind of footage from this event, and Livestream will again make its feed available to various online media outlets this year–so stay tuned.

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