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The value of breaking live video content

Benedict’s resignation came as a shock to us all. A breaking news event of global import, which played as big in Latin America and Africa as it did in Europe. No one knew it was going to happen and it tested the workflows and processes of even the most established rolling news broadcasters, writes Sue Brooks.

By Sue Brooks

For online publishers, even those that have been using video for some time, the reporting of this momentous yet unexpected occasion will have been a challenge. However, for those that could handle the increasing streams of live video being produced by the news agencies, Vatican TV and others, the benefits were great. “Chimney cam” became compulsive viewing and never has a puff of white smoke been so anticipated, or talked-about.

Live video content for digital publishers is now not a nice-to-have, it’s a necessity. Recent technology advances have changed the news landscape entirely, and a few things are increasingly clear: readers and viewers want their news instantly and easily available, they want it in a variety of formats, and they want it on the move. Live breaking news video content has, until relatively recently, been the sole preserve of broadcasters who have the infrastructure to deal with big events like the pope’s resignation. Advances in transcoding and streaming technology and the versatility of embedded players mean broadcasters no longer “own” live video and consumers can access breaking news from the Huffington Post or the Daily Telegraph as well as the BBC.

Benefits for publishers

That “chimney cam” was so compelling will be no surprise to broadcasters who have known for many years that live content is a money-spinner: witness the growth over the past two decades of rolling news channels. That it created stickiness for websites was a boon for digital news publishers who are increasingly looking to video to meet consumer demand, especially among the illusive 16-24 year olds, who appear to engage more with video content than other types of news.

Not all live news has the surprise of Benedict’s resignation but events long in the planning can be just as powerful. Think red carpet coverage of the major entertainment awards, or the unveiling of the latest must-have gadget from the Consumer Electronics’ Show. The social currency attached to seeing something first – and you can’t get more first than live – can be converted to real pounds as publishers start to cash in on the live potential and sell advertising space around the coverage.

With demand for mobile soaring and showing no sign of slowing down, the ability to be able to offer live video on-the-go will become a real differentiator, extending a publisher’s reach across platforms and across time, building brand loyalty at a time when ownership of the mobile video space is still up for grabs.

How to get started

The good news is it isn’t hard to get started: increasingly there’s no need to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds upgrading systems and infrastructure. Much more important is choosing the right partner - technical and editorial - to do the initial heavy lifting and then learning as you go, one baby-step at a time:

1. Look for a video content provider who routinely and reliably covers the type of stories you need: it’s no good signing up to a breaking news feed if actually you only want health stories.

2. Work with your video service providers to ensure their content is in the format/s that you want to receive it in. Will it be suitable for cross-platform use? Work with your internal technical team to find a suitable streaming partner if you can’t do it yourself. You can find partners to suit all needs: from the simplest of video players to ad servers or ad networks.

3. Remember that not all live video events are self-evident: you will need someone to guide the viewer through what’s happening on the screen. This could be a live blog, or ticker, but you need to explain what’s going on so the viewer doesn’t become confused.

4. Put a process together for how to deal with the immediacy of unplanned news and allocate specific roles. Do you need to create a landing page? Who will activate the player?

5. Use planned events effectively to open up new revenue streams. Work out in advance which live events you are going to promote and think about sponsorship, or an ad-supported player.

6. Be prepared to fail and don’t be afraid to experiment. Tap into your team’s creativity and try something new. As digital live video is still developing as a genre the opportunity is there to break the mould

The world’s biggest news brands – the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, Daily Telegraph, – have already grasped the importance of live video and are routinely covering the world’s news in real time. Ask 10 people where they first saw the inauguration of president Obama and here’s betting a fair few will say it was at their desk-top – not in front of the TV. But live video content need not be limited to global politics, or the big beasts of news. As consumers demand more on-the-go content the parameters of breaking news will expand to fit consumer demand and publishers will be looking for live content from Motor Shows, Awards Ceremonies, Festivals and Health Conferences.

The foundations have already been laid for an exciting new era of journalism. Video is a new weapon in our story-telling armour and it is being used in increasingly innovative and creative ways. Add live video into the mix and your readers won’t just be learning about a story on your site first: they’ll be living it.