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Stream This: Webcasting Large Entertainment Events - Seeing Through the Hype

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Before the Live Earth event had even begun, the hype was already starting. "We expect it to be the most highly watched entertainment event online," MSN senior director Lisa Gurry said in a Hollywood Reporter article. The article also says that "MSN predicts Live Earth will be a record-breaker." Come on. Is that the best that MSN can say? How about telling us how many sponsors you have? Or how you plan to cover your costs? Or whether this is a loss leader for MSN to create awareness for the brand? Or better yet, tell us what metrics MSN is going to use to determine the success or failure of the event?

Seeing Through the Hype
Stop with the "record-breaker" comments already. There is no such thing as a record-breaker webcast or the "largest webcast ever" because no one makes their logs available for review, and everyone measures viewers differently. Many large webcasts never even give out numbers or, if they do, the numbers are inflated. I know. I used to give clients viewer numbers after a webcast only to see them make the number a lot higher in press releases, sometimes by a few million. And if—if—it was the largest ever, so what? Does that mean it’s successful? No, not in terms of what really matters: monetization.

Sure enough, almost as soon as the event ended, MSN put out a press release talking about the traffic to the Live Earth webcast. But the way the numbers are given out after webcasts, they don’t accurately measure the traffic. The title of the release reads "Live Earth Global Concerts Reach More Than 10 Million Online At MSN..." More than 10 million what? People? Apparently not. Because the details of the release then say, "MSN had received a total of more than 10 million video streams." So it’s not 10 million people, as viewers are making more than one request or visiting the site multiple times. So how many unique people was it? And why does it say MSN "received" the streams? MSN does not receive the streams, they receive the request for the stream. Errors on such simple facts as this call all the other facts in the release into question.

Then the release says the webcast had "the most simultaneous viewers of any online concert ever," but gives no details on how many simultaneous streams they did. Why do companies find it necessary to be so vague?

They’d be doing themselves and the industry a favor if they answered some simple questions directly and clearly: How many total stream requests did you fulfill? How many unique streams did you serve? What was the average length of time someone watched the webcast? What percentage of traffic came from what regions of the world? What was the average bit rate at which people viewed? Very easy questions. Basic. These are the same questions that all customers ask their stream-hosting provider after an event, and they get exact figures in response. Why is it so tough for entertainment companies to make these figures public?

It’s a shame webcasters have not figured this out by now. I love the webcasting medium. It’s fun to webcast. It brings its own set of challenges, and it is a technology that allows anyone to communicate without any geographical boundaries. But while the application has been successful in the enterprise, government, education, and other verticals, it still does not work for large-scale entertainment events.

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