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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

The Best of Both Worlds: Mastering Hybrid Live Streaming

Hybrid live streaming is the act of live streaming an event to both a live audience as well as an online audience. An example of this would be live streaming a concert to YouTube, while also performing in front of a live audience. When done correctly, hybrid live streaming can help drive traffic to an event as well as boost its online presence. In addition, it can help build hype for similar future events, as well as act as advertisement material to events or products. Hybrid live streaming can drive traffic to an event by offering a taste of what an audience can expect to experience in person. This can be done by holding a portion of an event live to the internet, then cutting the stream requiring the user to attend the live event in order to see the conclusion. Online viewers may also have incentive to attend when simultaneous online and offline exclusive content is offered. This may consist of interviews or meet and greets with performers, exclusive activities or contests, or giving online viewers the ability to influence events in real time.

1. What is Hybrid Live Streaming?

Hybrid Live Streaming (HLS) is the latest innovation in live event broadcasting. It is a solution for those who want to embrace the internet as a broadcast medium, but still want to produce a high-quality video that can only currently be achieved from using broadcast television. This could be for customers that are still not on a fast enough internet connection to view the video or want to leverage the broadcast quality stream to sell the content to broadcast television. Traditional streaming overcomes this problem by producing multiple streams at different bitrates to cater to different viewers. This solution is cumbersome and expensive. With HLS, only one stream is produced, and the packaging of the stream can be done in real-time to cater to the different incoming connections. A small number of high-profile organizations have been using a private version of HLS for a number of years. The most common example to date is the streaming of Apple Keynotes via Quicktime. Recently, work has been done to standardize the features employed by these proprietary systems, and WebKit from Apple and Gecko from Mozilla have added support for the basic features. Now that the technology has matured, it will soon become a realistic solution for live events.

1.2 Benefits of Hybrid Live Streaming

Hybrid live streaming is the process of streaming video content to the internet while simultaneously recording and storing it in a remote server. This enables the content to be repurposed or rebroadcasted at a later time. The process is a ‘hybrid’ because it integrates both live streaming and traditional video production. Live streaming is progressively becoming more accessible with platforms like Periscope, Facebook Live, and YouTube. At the same time, internet speeds and the accessibility of high-quality video cameras and equipment allow content producers to achieve a level of production quality online that is on par with traditional TV broadcasts. As these two trends converge, the production technique known as hybrid live streaming is becoming a more viable and effective method for content producers. The benefits of hybrid live streaming are particularly relevant for mid-large size corporations, educational institutions, and government organizations that already produce video content and have a specific target audience in mind. This is because hybrid live streaming enables these organizations to reap the benefits of live video streaming without compromising the quality and message of their content.

1.3 The Role of Live Video Production Companies

Many production companies start off by offering a basic video streaming package to their clients. Typically, this would involve multiple cameras and operators, with the ability to switch between camera feeds creating a more dynamic viewing experience. Traditionally, the product of this would be a live broadcast which is kept private so only selected viewers can watch it. Hybrid live streaming adopts the same principles; however, it enhances the viewing audience by making it available online. This is a huge benefit for production companies as it will not take them out of their comfort zone or usual work routine. They are essentially offering the same service; however, the potential audience is much larger. This is a good stepping-stone for companies new to live streaming, as they can take their existing video production offering and deliver it in a live online format. This allows companies to experiment with live streaming and determine if it is something they wish to invest in further.

At its core, production companies are in the business of creating content. Hybrid live streaming provides a new platform to create more content by covering live events that they may not have previously covered due to budget constraints for onsite production. This opens up opportunities for production companies to cover various types of events, giving them the chance to explore new markets and create new relationships with different clients. By covering a range of events, production companies can grow their brand and reputation while creating an extensive and diverse portfolio of content.

A live video production company plays an integral role in the world of media and entertainment, and hybrid live streaming is no exception. There are a range of opportunities for production companies in hybrid live streaming, including revenue growth, extending their range of services, and cultivating better content. By embracing hybrid live streaming as an extension of their current service, production companies put themselves in a position to increase their revenue by charging for the new services they offer.

2. Choosing the Right Live Video Streaming Company

The choice between a bear or a bull market is not something investors take lightly. When markets are struggling, live content can become extremely difficult to create at a high level unless a company has specific expertise to do so, given the cost of travel and production. An entry into live content can become a market of its own when the brand recognizes the industry is in need of content specific to that sector. The Gaming and Casino industry have been prime examples where an increase in live streaming production and content creation has become highly sought after with content that can be easily broadcasted. This is where a wise investment can come with a substantial ROI if done properly. As it is no revelation that consumers are preferring content via video and live feed, the need for companies seeking to build or grow their business with live streaming can access much larger markets with specific target audiences. The more difficult decision comes into the specific company or service in which to use. The biggest mistake in many marketers’ minds when deciding to live stream is the comparison of live content to offline video content and thinking the creation process is the same. The issue of cost has already been noted…anything LIVE is potentially disastrous and disaster can be quite costly and very difficult to simulate or edit. Finally live streams can be long and exhausting, both on viewers and producers, due to the fact that long periods of gaming or events of any sort are difficult to montage together in a way to render a substantial amount of highlights in a short period of time. All of this should prop anyone seeking to live stream video to take time on finding a reputable company, as opposed to using Joe Shmoe with a webcam and dreams of E-fame.

2.1 Factors to Consider

A popular method of assessing the expertise and knowledge of a company is to inquire about previous work or a client portfolio. A high-quality company should be able to confidently display work that showcases their knowledge and expertise in the video field. It is worth looking for past work that is similar to your current or future project, and it is highly beneficial if the work involves or is relevant to the live video streaming company. This could come in the form of a live broadcast for a sports company, live music performances, or a webcast, and it is an added bonus if the company has direct experience of a similar project for a large company or enterprise.

In addition to the knowledge of the company, your company’s production requirements matter too. Speaking about these can also fill in any gaps in knowledge that the live video streaming companies might have about your project, and can help in assessing the knowledge of the technicians involved. In going through these production requirements, it is crucial to assess the likelihood that they may change over the course of the project, or from project to project. As technology and methodology are ever-changing in the video industry, it is important to find a company that is flexible and is able to adapt to these changes. This is quite relevant in considering live video streaming because its technology has improved in leaps and bounds over the past 4 years as a result of the increase in internet speeds and infrastructure. Find a company that has implemented live streaming in various methods and has the experience in advising which method is best for the given project.

2.2 Expertise in Hybrid Live Streaming

The next consideration on the checklist for choosing your live streaming player is “Hybrid” live streaming expertise. What is hybrid live streaming? Hybrid live streaming is a mix between traditional TV broadcast and web video. It requires specifically unique expertise because in webcast it’s just a re-encoding process and you can use many CDNs to distribute the content. On the other hand, traditional TV broadcast is an ‘over the air’ broadcast, and hybrid live streaming is the “over the top” broadcast. Over the top broadcast is the delivery of audio, video, and other content over the internet without the involvement of a service provider in the distribution or control of the content. This is a very complex process and compared with traditional TV broadcast, it’s a much cheaper yet efficient way to broadcast. Due to its complex and cost-efficient advantages, many organizations are considering using the technique, hence the demand for it is still high. When asking a video streaming company, if the vendor said “we can do hybrid live streaming”, it’s not necessarily true. Some vendors provide a static re-encoding process and claim it as live hybrid streaming. By knowing the very basic difference of hybrid live streaming, you can dig deeper by asking him the detailed process and what are the demanding points which differ with traditional live streaming or webcast. If he understands it very well, it’s a good sign.

2.3 Reputation and Client Portfolio

A live streaming company could have an amazing portfolio that demonstrates a specific skillset with a particular kind of client. You need to be careful that you are not a company’s training ground. Obviously try to see if they have done events similar to yours and whether they have demonstrated a capability to meet your needs. Multiple case studies and a diverse portfolio that demonstrates flexibility is a good sign. Reputation is subjective and can be difficult to measure. It is important to do your research and to do some digging about a company. Look for testimonials or referrals, and if you know someone who has used their services before, speak to them about their experiences. Ask if the company has won any awards or has been featured on industry websites, a company that is recognized in its field is more likely to be trustworthy as they have a reputation to uphold. It may sound trivial, but the look of the company’s website can also be a good indicator of its legitimacy. If time allows, meeting face to face to discuss a company’s capabilities can be valuable. You can understand the people behind the brand as well as what they can offer you. This is also a chance to express exactly what you’re looking for and to avoid any miscommunications.

3. Hybrid Live Streaming Technologies

In order to achieve seamless integration between online and offline events, a number of various technologies are employed. The most common broadcast video today employs a single camera and operator. However, in order to mimic the production quality found in traditional TV, a number of multi-camera setups have been devised. Varying in levels of complexity and cost, these setups generally consist of switching between pre-determined ‘scenes’ at regular intervals using a dedicated vision switcher. At the most basic level, this may be switching between two static cameras at regular intervals. More complex setups may involve switching between a larger number of sources and may include additional activities such as on-screen graphics or ‘picture in picture’. By utilizing a vision mixer and multiple encoding PCs, it is possible for a single operator to simulate a very high production value production, although this may be complex to achieve without prior video production experience. An example of a hybrid event utilizing this kind of setup would be MixMag’s recent ‘Lab’ series, which live streams DJ performances from around the world, switching between various camera angles and including on-screen graphics. Many events will seek to integrate pre-recorded video into a live stream. This method can be a practical method of dealing with technical constraints which may prevent live broadcasting and can also be used to stagger a series of presentations or talks throughout the duration of a live stream. In the context of a hybrid event, pre-recorded video can be used to bridge the gap between the online and offline components of an event. This will be advantageous if the differing locations of the event are far removed from each other in time zone. An obvious example would be the use of a pre-recorded video from an overseas location during an offline conference. More recent developments in live streaming technology have seen the creation of various methods of adding interactivity and engagement to a live stream. This can be a key way of increasing the value of the online component of a hybrid event. Engaging an online audience with an offline event can be a challenging task, as it is highly unlikely that an online viewer will watch a multi-hour long stream of a talk or presentation without any additional incentive or interaction.

3.1 Multi-Camera Setups

Live streaming and hybrid event video productions are limited to single camera operations where the videographer is constantly readjusting the framing and shots. Events are commonly covered with multiple cameras, often times these are switched live and streamed to the internet. Live switching does not take full advantage of the multi-camera acquisition and only one switched program is streamed. The future of multicamera live streaming is to produce a multi-image stream, giving the viewer complete control over the viewing experience. With multiple cameras, a live operator can create a compelling story using different camera angles, shot sizes, and compositions. By coding the multiple video and audio signals into a single stream, an operator at a streaming server can use a “player” to reconstruct the program and create a better stream. This process can also be accomplished post-event by editing the separate audio/video files, but live production is most compelling. On-site production involves a video switcher, where camera operators are cued to various shots and the operator can switch a live stream of video. Editing separate files can be time-consuming and problematic. The video files must be synchronized and then cut between various sources. Audio and video synchronization can be difficult; oftentimes a smart slate is used to assist in the editing process. This method is effective but takes far longer than it would to switch a live stream and edit only the necessary changes between shots. The future of multicamera live streaming will use machine learning and AI to automate the shot selection process. An operator will define various shot criteria and an AI can either control robotic cameras or select a camera shot in a camera with automation to achieve the desired composition. The AI will store event footage into a database and over time machine learning will be able to predict the most effective shots for a desired shot criteria based on similar footage stored in the database. This method of shot selection will take place overnight at a fraction of the time it took to edit a video, and the AI will provide a finished product.

3.2 Integration of Pre-recorded Content

Hybrid live streaming is the future of live events. It allows event presenters to truly hone the quality of the content being delivered. There is a possibility of multiple takes on pre-recorded content and post-edit, which can all be done on the event presenter’s own time. Compare this to live delivery, where if something goes wrong, it goes wrong in front of the audience. Pre-recorded content also greatly increases the options for distributing the material after it has been initially presented live. Pre-recorded material can be delivered in a public or private manner. If it is delivered in private, it can be gated behind forms and used as a tool for lead generation. Any of this pre-recorded material can later be repurposed by the event presenter and used in a number of different ways.

Video and audio distribution technologies have undergone major changes over the past few years. It was not so long ago that if you wanted to watch an event live, you were limited to a handful of television channels. The computer and Internet ages have changed all of that. Streaming video and audio now allows us to watch events live from all over the world – right on our computers. But the nature of live events is changing, and some of them are finding that hybrid live streaming is a more efficient and cost-effective way to present their content. Hybrid live streaming essentially means that event content is a mix of live and pre-recorded material. An extremely simple example of this is a PowerPoint slide presentation being delivered live in conjunction with an audio and video stream. In this case, the PowerPoint slides would be the pre-recorded portion.

3.3 Interactive Features and Audience Engagement

Interactivity is a significant feature of the internet and has been the primary driver of so much development in web technology over the past decade. At this point, it is fair to say that the primary pull through of a lot of technology in the broadcast and production industry in recent years has been to make what takes place in the living room more closely resemble what can take place in front of a PC. Broadcasters and producers want to create communities around their content. They want to make TV social. In live production, this means giving the viewers ways to affect the show. It means bringing the features of on-demand or online content to the live environment. An early example of this might be the exodus of talk radio to TV. The number of talk-based programming on TV has certainly increased significantly over the past decade. The reason for this is that a conversation with no visual aids is highly suited to a call-in show – and the ability for the public to get their voices heard is a significant level of interactivity for a TV show. Now that TV shows have a way for viewers to give feedback, the next phase is to incorporate the feedback and questions into the content itself. This means bringing user content right up to date, which leads us to some good examples of our current topic.

4. Case Studies: Successful Hybrid Live Streaming Examples

The Red Bull Music Academy Bass Camp in Sydney was a music festival aiming to bring together some of the best in young musical talent that the Asia-Pacific region had to offer in the genres of electronic and beat-oriented music. The event was not widely publicized save for a select few niche music publications, lacked a real corporate sponsorship, and had no existing ties to a broader Asia-Pacific youth community. Because of this, the powers that be at RBMA saw this as an opportunity to not only document the events for the participants themselves but to essentially create content that would become the multimedia face of RBMA Bass Camp defensive drilling, to be a potential tool of leverage for management and publicity to secure funding and future ventures of a similar nature.

Accessing successful examples of the level of hybrid live streaming discussed thus far is much harder than accessing the lower level endeavors discussed in the introduction. Indeed, as an extension of the issues surrounding defining what hybrid live streaming in a wider context actually is, the level of deployment of the more advanced techniques is so new that they are very limited in number. This said, there are indeed a number of examples that in each their own way encapsulate the direction that hybrid live streaming is moving towards, and to conclude I would like to introduce a few of these.

4.1 Sporting Events

One of the main differences between the traditional live broadcasting of sporting events and hybrid production is the interactivity with consumers. Hybrid Sports clients include the NHL, PGA, and NCAA. Wendy Meyerson, director of digital media and emerging technology at VideoLink, says one of their clients, the New England Sports Network (NESN), “is using the live stream as a really interactive and engaging feature to build the community around the Red Sox Nation. The goal is to get the fans more involved with the team and create extra value with exclusive behind-the-scenes viewing.” The 2009 production by IMG Media of the 2009 Par 3 Golf Tournament Masters on ESPN3D provides a good example of a hybrid sporting event using 3D. This coverage was an alternative viewing experience, showcasing the first-ever 3D golf broadcast to the home. While the main focus of this viewing was not internet-based, the use of 3D for broadcasting is set to change the live broadcast world, and this is a cool example involving depth of field for hybrid streaming.

4.2 Concerts and Music Festivals

The music industry is a natural fit for live streaming because of the ability to easily record high quality audio and video. There are many bands and festivals using the technology in a variety of ways to promote their music, reaching out to new fans, increasing album and merchandise sales, or simply providing a service to fans who are unable to attend live shows. We have already discussed how U2 and The Killers have used YouTube to live stream concerts from iconic venues in the past. U2 in particular achieved great success by allowing fans to watch the performance for free for a limited time. This resulted in an estimated 10 million viewers. The stream was the opening act for the 2019/2020 Rose Bowl game and was used to promote the band’s appearance that night by means of an advertisement during the halftime show. Similarly, the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival live streamed both weekends of its 2019 event via YouTube, giving fans at home the option to “tune in” and switch between various live performances. The stream was a success and the festival increased its viewership by 90% compared to the previous year with 41 million viewers from 232 countries tuned in over the 3-day period. This case shares similarities with the U2 YouTube stream as it was used to promote the festival and was available for free for a limited time.

4.3 Corporate Events and Conferences

It is essential to explain the various forms of corporate events and the audience for each in order to understand how live streaming can make an impact. This can range from internal company meetings, to employee training sessions, to executive town halls, to public facing shareholder meetings, to marketing and PR events such as product launches. In terms of shareholder meetings, Deloitte and Cisco have shown in recent years that simply webcasting the event can be very effective. However, the main leverage corporate clients can get is by turning their event into a strategic marketing tool. Shareholder meetings and the like are mandatory events and therefore have a captured audience. On the other hand, a training session does not guarantee that employees will attend. Recorded video can give those employees who could not attend an opportunity to view the session, however, live streaming it brings a new dynamic. An example of this was seen earlier this year when Money Desktop, a provider of PFM tools for financial institutions, held an all company meeting consisting of employees from across the country. They streamed the event live over the internet allowing those at remote offices to view it and use VPN to access. This resulted in higher participation than previous meetings where some employees had simply used the conference call feature. High participation is also a goal when trying to market an event to potential clients as is the case with a PR event. An early adopter for this style of live streaming was AMD when they used a specialized video player to deliver live video coverage of a product launch and press conference. Finally, there is the case of an event where the audience or user group shall be performing the role of the service provider. This is the scenario Accellis has in mind for an upcoming speaking engagement at an IT conference where they will provide live demonstrations of the techniques and software solutions they have developed with the aim of teaching others in their industry.

4.4 Virtual Trade Shows

Recently, some trade shows have adopted hybrid models allowing their participants to take part in the event from remote locations. Virtual attendance is completed by registration beforehand, logging into a website, and “attending” the event. The virtual version of the event usually mimics the in-person event in its scheduling and scope. Participants can navigate the virtual trade show to find the most recent information on products and services while interacting with sponsors and vendors in real time. This is usually completed using webcams and text chat. SME is a non-profit organization that supports small business development. They recently began teaming up with trade shows in order to offer a virtual component to the event using a custom virtual trade show environment and specialized services to assist SME members in gaining the best possible experience from the event. SME members save time and money by not having to travel, can quickly sort through the various show resources to find exactly what they are looking for, and can more easily network with other attendees.

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