Having hosted 15 livestream programs for my employer, Simulmedia, I can confidently say at least one thing about the experience.
After watching me, no one is going to forget Anderson Cooper. Or Chris Wallace. Or Pat Sajak, Captain Kangaroo, The Church Lady – or, in fact, any other professional broadcasting host who comes to mind.
Our show, called Simulmedia Live, is a place where some of the sharpest minds in marketing and advertising talk about the work they’re doing and where they see things headed. It aspires to be as polished as it can be, yet not too shiny. I think there’s something extra honest about our show given that we make absolutely no effort to drown out police and ambulance sirens that occasionally wail in the background. The show must go on.
While I don’t have to worry about being swarmed in public as a result of the exposure these livestreams generate, I do often get asked about what it’s like and whether it has been good for Simulmedia. With this in mind, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned along the way.
- You can broadcast using just a webcam, but that doesn’t mean you should.
When I first contemplated livestreaming, my primary goal was to find a better way to put our content in front our target audience. Before livestreaming, we could do that either via hosting an event or by sponsoring someone else’s. The former often attracted friends of the company, prospective job seekers, and even competitors, but potential customers didn’t always turn out as much. The latter gets us in front of lots of potential customers, but it costs a lot – typically $25,000 and up. I knew we could record good content and then use digital channels to promote and distribute it to the right people. At first, production quality didn’t cross my mind.
I learned that webcams can do the trick. In fact, some use it artfully (see Green, John). But Simulmedia operates in the television industry. TV sets the highest bar for broadcast quality. In addition, Simulmedia practically invented the category we now lead. Quick-cuts of me talking to my screen wasn’t going to cut it.
That’s why we decided to partner with a pro, in this case a company called The Streamcast Network. They transformed an ordinary conference room into a studio, complete with a camera, lighting, and audio set-up. (After every episode, they cart much of the equipment away so we can have our conference room back.) Plus, livestreaming is all that they do. They brought all that expertise to bear, helping us accelerate our evolution through what otherwise would have been a steep learning curve when it comes to show content, duration, guest selection, promotion, and ideal platforms on which to broadcast.
Now, for 20 percent less than the cost of one of our live events, and less than a tenth of the cost of a sponsored event, I can distribute our content to an audience that has a much richer concentration of target customers. We broadcast on both Zoom and LinkedIn and typically get as many as 150 people to watch some portion of each episode live. We then publish a recorded version to our website, while LinkedIn preserves the video in our feed. Within a week of the airing, we typically will get between 500 and 1,000 additional views of the recording, all with little to no paid promotion.
- Be relentless in your pursuit of quality improvements.
After we aired our very first episode, I couldn’t wait to watch it on-demand. I was eager to see how the whole production had come together. Our camera is actually three cameras in one. It can zoom in on me or my guest, and it can pull back to give a wide-angle shot. Streamcast Network also provides us lower-thirds – the term used to describe the captions that often appear below a talking head on any news program. We had invested in professional lighting and sound, both so critical to giving a polished experience for viewers. Intellectually, I knew that we had not recreated a CNN stage. Emotionally, I was hoping that we would come pretty close.
After watching it, I saw just how far we were from the ideal I had in my head. The lighting was a little soft. The video seemed to capture super crisp images of the background, while my guest and I were just a little fuzzy. The audio wasn’t clear throughout the show. At times, I didn’t know whether to look at my guest or the camera. It wasn’t bad, but it had lots of room for improvement.
That’s why after every episode, I debrief with Streamcast Network and my colleagues who watched it. We compare notes. We make changes. I feel proud of how far we’ve come. We’re not Good Morning America, but that’s okay. We’re improve with each broadcast.
- If you care about attracting a large audience, invite guests with large social media followings and keep at it.
I actually don’t think total audience size matters as much as producing authentic content that our customers and prospects will find useful. If even one company decides to meet with us because of something they saw on Simulmedia Live, that’s a success.
If total audience size matters to you, though, invite guests who have sizable social media followings. I recently interviewed Rebecca Kaden, a partner at Union Square Ventures. After several days of promoting her appearance via our social accounts and email, we had about 25 people express interest. But then Rebecca tweeted it to her over 20,000 followers, and Fred Wilson blogged about it, and within hours we had over 400 people sign up to watch.
On a related note, aim to broadcast regularly. Even if you not many viewers tune in right away, being persistent also will help grow your audience over time.
- Be prepared.
Simulmedia Live is conversational and not scripted, but that doesn’t mean we freestyle every episode. For every guest, I spend at least an hour crafting a show outline that covers the topics that we’ll discuss and in roughly what order. I review it with my guests at least a week prior to the airing. I often will spend another hour or two on the phone with a guest, especially if they’re anxious about being on camera.
On airing days, I require that my guests arrive 30 minutes prior to when we go live. That gives us time to test the audio and lighting and for my guests to get comfortable in the space, including knowing how to talk into the microphone, where the camera is, and where they should look at all times. If they have any additional edits or ideas, this gives us plenty of time to do one final red line of the show outline.
By the time the camera rolls, everyone is as ready as they’ll ever be to have fun and be at their best.
- Things will go wrong.
Video freezes? Audio not matching the video? Camera out of focus? Guest in a room that goes completely dark because a motion sensor assumes that it is unoccupied and therefore cuts the lights? All of the above has happened during our show. When we livestream, we have no 10 second delay. When things go wrong, there’s no safety net. I’m always ready to talk straight to the camera in case a remote guest cuts out, and I’ve learned to laugh when things go south. What else can I do? We’re not out to win Pulitzers.
These are just some of the lessons I’ve learned as a result of recording 15 livestream episodes. If you’re interested in learning more, add a comment below and I’ll do my best to help.
Oh, and Anderson Cooper? Your job is quite safe.