Lesson 1: Schedule your broadcast and prepare for scale

This post is the first in a five part series exploring how lessons learned from broadcast television can be applied to interactive live streaming. Check out our blog or follow us on Medium to make sure you don’t miss the upcoming installments in this series.

Stick to a Schedule

In contrast to most pre-recorded content, live events can still reach massive audiences. For sports, news, and live shows people tune-in to watch it as it happens. Entertainment and game shows can also benefit from this by allowing viewers to get involved and play-along, in real time, during the broadcast.

Schedule your live events for your fans as you would on broadcast TV to get viewers to tune in at specific times. If your stream comes on at the same time every week or every day, people are far more likely to make tuning in a habit. It allows you to build momentum towards the show on social media and create curiosity among your viewers.

Get the Audience Involved Through Calls to Action

“Clear calls to action are important to drive engagement with your live stream.”

Once you’re live, there are 3 distinct channels that can be used to prompt your audience to take action. These calls to action are:

  1. Push notifications through a mobile app. Obviously this has some limitations. For starters, this only works for people who already have your app. And then among those people, your message will only reach the ones who have push notifications enabled. However, this is a very effective tool to keep people coming back frequently, provided of course that they like the experience. Need more proof? Now even Facebook allows people to sign up for push notifications when a page they like begins to stream live content. 
    The graph below shows the total number of players for one of the apps we build for a large broadcast project.
  2. Use on-screen graphics and display a call to action over the lower third of the screen during a live stream. On that graphic you can instruct viewers to vote for their favorite contestants, answer questions or even rate performances. This is an easy way to direct your audience to take a guided action and keep them engaged.
  3. Have the presenter, or host of your live stream simply ask the audience to take action. This option may work best to tell people they will be asked to take action, and remind them repeatedly during the stream. “And remember folks, you can play long on your mobile phone right now” is a great example.
The effect of push notifications: before the start of episode 7 and 8 push notifications were used to invite app users to play-along during the broadcast which resulted in clear peaks of unique users.

Clear calls to action are important to drive engagement with your live stream. When people can interact with the content they are viewing, it makes them feel valued and involved, they develop a sense that they can impact the outcome. And this feeling is even stronger when viewer interactions are displayed on screen.

Make Sure Your Solution is Scalable

When sharing a live stream with any audience, much like in broadcasting, it’s important to deliver on the expectations of those consuming the media in question. From a user perspective, remember that when viewers consume and interact with live content, they want a smooth, seamless and intuitive experience. They also want to be engaged and feel like they are a part of the action by getting involved in the outcome.

(image via Wired)

It may not sound sexy, but you can’t provide any of the above without the right technology. Making sure your servers can handle the capacity and the interactions you’re going to attract, and keeping them from crashing is essential. Think of it like a game of musical chairs. When you trigger an event (or call to action), in this case stopping the music, all the participants will go for a chair. But if you’re backend isn’t solid, there won’t be enough chairs. People won’t get what they want, some will crash into one another, others will fall down. It will lead to a great big mess, like this.

“It is easier to retain an audience than build a new one.”

Except your live streaming business isn’t a game of musical chairs. It’s a real business with real users who don’t want to end up falling down. It’s crucial that you give them a fun, reliable and engaging user experience, otherwise you won’t get them to come back for your next live stream. Remember, if your app fails during a stream, people will respond negatively. Bad word of mouth kills your momentum for audience acquisition. It is easier to retain an audience than build a new one. Plus, negative reviews damage your rating in the app store/play store, making it more difficult for people to find your app, and less likely that they download it.

Best practice: What Do I Know

A great example is the game show “What do I know” in France. This fast paced quiz show allows people at home to play-along from the app. By playing along, viewers can test their knowledge level and compare this to the celebrities and students in the studio and the other app users. Right at the start and during the broadcast viewers are encouraged to download and launch the app. During the show the results from the audience is discussed and displayed in the app. The result: record breaking participation with almost 500.000 concurrent users, 20% of the viewers.

Try to find ways you can implement these tips in your live stream and let us know what kind of result you get. Share your feedback or tips of your own on Twitter and Facebook, and maybe we’ll even use your suggestions for an upcoming post. And remember to come back next week for lesson 2 of our series… Structure Your Interactions — our lessons from The Voice.

P.S. Ex Machina is growing and looking for passionate developers, designers and project managers. Check all open positions on our website.