GUEST POST: Twitch, The Live Fronts And The Next Paradigm Shift

This week we launched an original cooking series with Twitch and Roker Media. ChefShock broadcasts for two hours, every weeknight at dinnertime and the idea is that you buy the ingredients ahead of time and cook along with our chef, who will be answering your questions in real time. Our big dream is to create a communal dinnertime on Twitch.

Last week Roker Media held the inaugural Live Fronts in which some of the industry’s top execs convened to discuss implications and opportunities of live broadcasting. The event took me back to 2008 and the inaugural New Fronts. ‘Live’ feels a lot like online video felt back then; when YouTube was still being creatively and economically defined.

At the Live Fronts opinion was divided between executives from traditional media, who viewed live broadcasting as a fantastic way to augment TV, and entrepreneurs who foresee more disruptive implications. Gary VaynerChuk challenged network sports execs over the possibility of NFL or NBA, one day, going direct to consumer. Their answer; “I’ll be retired by then”.

One key difference between 2016 and 2008 is that we have all survived eight roller coaster years of change and paradigm shifting. It’s been a wild ride! In 2008, the idea that self-made teenagers could outcompete MTV was unthinkable. In 2016, post the Maker Studios purchase, settler wagons, large and small, are ready and awaiting the start gun of the next big media shift. Just like that Oklahoma land grab scene in Far And Away.

Traditional media has joined and is trying to re-divert, the digital fray too, with investments in their stalking horses. Back in 2008, Vaynerchuck was still operating out of his family’s wine store. In 2016 he is at large in the Flat Iron District.

But with a film studio in your pocket and zero friction between yourself and your viewers, in live, none of that may matter again. After auctioning off the opportunity to punch him in the face, ‘pharma bro’ Martin Shkreli wandered Manhattan egging on viewers on Periscope. The response wasn’t as negative as you might expect. He has his fans and the internet loves to hate a bad boy (or girl). It made me think of the Sex Pistol’s infamous appearance on British morning TV and the end 1970s stadium rock.

That’s giving Shkreli a lot more credit than he deserves! But ‘live’ does have the potential to turn rule-breaking, bad behaviour and social rebellion into a competitive advantage, especially as shiny YouTube stars sell out, en masse. The oddness of watching Shkreli’s broadcast reminded me of the oddness of first watching Shay Karl put his toddlers on YouTube back in 2008. At the time, few understood the old rules were being rewritten. I certainly didn’t.

So with that disclaimer in mind, here are some lessons I have learned producing live shows in 2016:

Casting Is Everything: Without the refining tools of post-production your single most important job as a producer is casting. You are Rick Rubin and you need to find the next Adele and then get out of their way. Okay, Adele is one in a 100 million, but you certainly need to be looking for somebody special.

Forget ‘Made If Sold’: Leave this mentality back in 2008 and at the New Fronts. With low barriers to entry and no post-production costs, make the show, without waiting for a sponsor to green light it. In fact rethink your relationship to a sponsor. Why do they need you? Everybody is out there chasing the same brands with the same tales of ‘storytelling’, meanwhile Google and Facebook are cleaning up.

Meaningful Interactivity: Beyond just acknowledging specific viewers or answering their questions in real time, how can you get them to actually participate in the actual activities of the show itself? On Twitch viewers don’t just watch gamers but often get in the actual game with them.

Connecting E-Commerce To Enjoyment: The commercial opportunity in ‘live’ is to make sales additive to the experience of the broadcast. ‘Live’ is not about making compromises for the benefit of a sponsor, but making commercial transaction a way to better participate.

Must Have, Not Would Like To Have: Neither ‘live’ nor virtual reality are for all brands. If I have learned anything from riding the digital video boom its that you must make a legitimate business case for your content, beyond doing something cool (“brand lift”), or it will die. Don’t get distracted by Doug Limon’s flashy new VR project. It is going to be those who can embed VR in the customer journey, reducing sales costs and helping convert leads, who will succeed in VR with brands. Similarly, live is going to be best suited to businesses, who have to succeed in e-commerce. Fashion is in the gun barrel of this new medium, but other categories like crowd-funding, auctioneering, groceries and food delivery, movie and theatre ticket sales and daily deals and bargains all have to be in live.

Community: Okay it’s a buzzword… but I live next to a busy Fly Wheel studio and I can think of no other explanation as to why people would pay to cycle inside a dark room, when they could ride for free on the West Side Highway, only blocks away. But occasionally, even New Yorkers get lonely too.

Discovery: Another buzzword, but ‘live’ is a way to avoid burial under the daily Niagara Falls of content. We are all hooked up to this live organism and our attention shifts like a dateline on an inflight map. Regularity, something that embeds itself in peoples’ daily schedules is crucial for a live show to succeed. Twitch stars are at it every day, come rain or shine. One off campaigns are not going to work as well.

On that note, buy these ingredients and tune in tonight here, to make clams and pasta with us.

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This article is a contributed piece from Tom Bannister, the founder of digital studio SXM and Branded.TV, a one-stop shop for branded entertainment. Branded.tv features and catalogs the best branded entertainment campaigns from around the world. More on their work here.