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How Brands Can Succeed With Sponsored Live Video Experiences

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Today’s consumers—especially Millennials—value an experience far more than anything else in their lives, largely fueling the “experience economy.” This holds true for all sorts of live events, such as sports, esports, concerts, and music festivals. If they can’t be there for these experiences, they want to enjoy them through a collaborative, participatory broadcast.

These lean-in live events present great monetization opportunities for well-matched brands, but there is a cost to pulling them off. At Bulldog DM, our primary focus is delivering brand-presented live streams in the premium video content marketplace, adhering to a best practice standard we’ve developed over many years.

We work with companies like AT&T, Samsung, Netflix, Jeep, Nissan, Sony, the NFL, Nestlé, Snickers, Coca-Cola, and Facebook to help them optimize their content and deliver value on events that carry their brand. We’ve looked closely at the challenges brands are facing today and discovered they’re quite substantial. Branded, high-engagement live broadcasts present unique vehicles for meeting those challenges.

The Pain Points

Today’s brands have three main pain points. One is cord-cutting. The audience that they’re trying to reach is not watching Law & Order on NBC on Thursday nights and sitting through a State Farm ad. eMarketer predicted that 33 million U.S. adults were to have cut the cord by the end of 2018, a projected 32.8% increase. The brand target viewer is either attending live events or looking for collaborative, participatory experiences that approximate or in some ways surpass the in-person experience.

When brands try to deliver their message to smartphones, they are encumbered by ad blockers, which is the second pain point. There are now more than 615 million devices with ad blockers on them, so traditional ad inventory— banners, display ads—doesn’t get through.

More recently, we’ve seen brands challenged by the third pain point, brand safety. Any time you’re advertising on a platform, you’re at the risk of positioning your message next to dubious, nefarious, or dangerous content. Recently, AT&T and Disney withheld ad inventory from YouTube due to brand safety concerns, and other brands that have cut back advertising in the past because of the same concerns include Verizon, P&G, JPMorgan Chase, and Johnson & Johnson.

Enter Branded Live Content

We’ve talked to brands that believe that branded content presented live is the solution to all three of those problems. When we work with brands to explore the possibilities of branded live experiences, we start to transition from a sponsorship conversation to a media conversation.

We explain to brands that these participatory events, done right, provide watch time that’s pretty much unachievable in any other form of advertising. Compared to traditional investments in 30-second, on-demand television ads, branded live experiences require a fraction of the spend with a much higher return, especially in terms of engagement time.

Live video gives brands deep engagement time with the consumer. Facebook’s launch and prioritization of live streaming with Facebook Live has allowed it to drive even stronger engagement: Facebook reports that users are watching live video three times longer than non-live and that live is garnering six times the level of interaction.

Having a dialogue on these types of opportunities, in which we focus on a media strategy rather than a traditional sponsorship approach, changes the conversation.

Premium live experiences like music festivals, concerts, or product launches make for compelling viewing when amplified to consumers on their connected devices. Brands need to enhance the live-streaming experience for viewers and engage them and not offer just a surveillance video experience.

With a music festival, for example, giving the viewer the ability to switch from one stage to another is very compelling. It’s the difference between a passive broadcast offering and an off-site experience that feels much more like being there.

We’ve had brands such as Coca-Cola, Snickers, and AT&T place their experiences in multiple places. They’ve also come back to a compelling hub that could have an additional camera feed or an exclusive conversation with one of the performers (Figure 1). That approach works well for our brands.

Figure 1. The Coca-Cola- branded Vive Latino festival, with multiple stages for viewers to choose from in the live stream

The Power (and Peril) of Active Social Platforms

Social platforms are a big part of optimized, branded live experiences. Viewers who engage with those experiences want to talk, post, share, comment, and tweet about what they’re watching. You have to give them that capability (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Comment feed on the Jeep- branded LA Auto Show stream

We’ve also found that those conversations can easily go off-topic or become offensive. When you’re delivering a branded live event on a social platform, it’s important to explore ways to keep the conversation related to the video.

This is very important to brands. You don’t want people saying, “American Express sucks. I love Mastercard,” in an Amex-branded experience or having other kinds of off-topic conversations not related to the music or whatever live content you’re delivering.

We address this issue with an automated toolset that enables us to filter out naughty words. The brands we work with that offer the experience on their own sites can program the toolset to drive the conversation by adding cues and calls to action.

With everything but esports, we’ve found that if the conversation turns into crazy hyper-scroll, viewers lose interest in the social component. They start to pull away. If the conversation stays relevant to the video, viewers will be far more engaged.

A focused live discussion also provides a readable context that becomes a collaborative, participatory, lean-in experience and makes viewers more likely to share it out. They’ll say, “Hey, I’m watching this great performance by Kendrick Lamar. Come have this experience with me.”

Having done hundreds of shows on YouTube, we’ve seen that what viewers want most of all is to participate in a lively dialogue about what they’re watching. Ensuring that you provide that will create a more rewarding experience for the performer, artist, brand, and viewer.

With social streams added to live video, we get a much larger viewership and far more watch time. That’s where we start to see success and what we term as “scale,” especially for Madison Avenue-funded live experiences.

Instagram is the hot platform right now. For live streaming on Instagram, you’re limited to a camera-only experience. We’ve developed a capability to livestream a fully produced broadcast feed on Instagram. This is of major interest to brands—especially any brand with a music strategy. Of Instagram’s 1 billion users, nearly 50% follow 10 or more certified music artists’ accounts. This presents a major collaboration opportunity for both artists and brands. At the NBA All-Star Game this year, we helped AT&T livestream the official pregame concert with Janelle Monae that was available on YouTube, Twitter, and AT&T’s Instagram account.

Concerts and Festivals: A Three-Phase Experience

I’ve done a great deal of work with music festivals, such as Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, both in my previous work with AEG and more recently at Bulldog DM. At Bulldog DM, we’ve modeled a festival strategy around three phases to optimize the experiences for our viewers and our brands, while focusing on delivering the content at a high level of quality.

Phase One is “Live Live”: the bands performing in real time throughout the day.

When the headliner finishes, Phase Two begins: replaying that day one or two times into the following day when we’re back “on the air” at 4 p.m. or 5 p.m.

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