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Video: Interactivity and the Future of Live Video

Tim: Welcome back to Streaming Media East, 2017. I'm Tim Siglin, contributing editor with Streaming Media Magazine. Today I've got with me Kathryn Jones, of Virtual Arts TV. Tell me what Virtual Arts does.

Kathryn: We have been doing multi-camera live streaming since 2007. As soon as the live streaming platforms really launched, which was Ustream, on March 18, 2007, and Ustream about three weeks later. I recognized immediately, I used to work in the arts, that that was a vibrant feature for the performing arts if it was done right. I've been doing multi-camera live streaming since then.

Tim: We called it Lifecasting back then.

Kathryn: Yes, but somehow I saw beyond that, and actually, because honestly Lifecasting, hooray that it began, but with all due respect, it's not watchable. What I watched was a two person show, Jeff Pulver and Chris Brogan. I kind of stopped a podcast that I was doing, literally that day, and turned around, and seven months later launched the first multi-camera live stream scripted series. Because my background in performance was live, that this done right, and done right is the key word that I will talk about from here to 2085. Done right is incredibly compelling and is a great business model.

Tim: Done right from a production standpoint?

Kathryn: Yes.

Tim: From a scripting standpoint?

Kathryn: Well, I would start with production, honestly.

Tim: Okay.

Kathryn: Scripting is a given to me.

Tim: Right.

Kathryn: Production, and I am about to be on The Future of Live Streaming Panel. Live streaming will flourish, depending on choices that producers choose to make, because you can stream with your iPhone.

Tim: Right, absolutely.

Kathryn: And look at your analytics. That's all I have to say is look at your analytics. Most people don't. They see that number on the top left-hand corner, which really, I wish they'd go, "Oh, that's my impressions as opposed to my real analytics," because really, what those are is impressions.

Tim: Right.

Kathryn: We'll see what happens.

Tim: It was interesting to me, looking at Facebook Live, because I'm not on Facebook. I haven't been on Facebook for almost two years, to go to ...

Kathryn: You are right now.

Tim: Yeah, of course. To go to the bottom of the screen and look at the previous recordings, and see this sort of graph that you would actually look at as being half of an audio graph, and then realizing that was the number of people who were viewing at any given time.

Kathryn: Yes.

Tim: It's visual representations of the places that things are interesting within a scripted, or even a live event. What kind of gear were you using back in 2007?

Kathryn: Well, it's interesting. I always tell this ... We're at Streaming Media East, and it was actually Streaming Media East that made what I do possible. I had the idea for a multi-camera scripted piece, but I had no idea. I just figured there's got to be a way to make it happen.

Tim: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kathryn: I came to Streaming Media. Someone said, "Come look at a TriCaster." I've actually always used TriCasters.

Tim: Okay.

Kathryn: I own a TriCaster. I've always used them.

Tim: Interesting.

Kathryn: I've used them because production values matter to me so much, and because creatively ... I will say I have clients who don't have TriCaster budgets, and we use browser-based mixing, and I hate it.

Tim: Well, there's an interesting company that's sort of moving in that space.

Kathryn: What, who?

Tim: Blue Frame Technology, actually. Chris Knowlton who used to be at Wowza.

Kathryn: I'm on a panel with him in a moment.

Tim: Okay. Ask him about ...

Kathryn: I will.

Tim: What they do, because ...

Kathryn: I will.

Tim: It's not splashy, but you can see where it's going. If you think about vMix, which has come along after TriCaster, and what they're starting to do, and how they were able to do it on laptops, and then to the cloud, what Chris and that group are able to do, you see the inklings of the ability to go anywhere, get your production studio up and running, especially when you ... I know Andrew and the guys at NewTek are looking at the same thing with NDI.

Kathryn: Yes.

Tim: The idea is basically IP cameras grab from any phone, any actual camera, other devices that push video, and then being able to virtually, actually integrate those into a quality production.

Kathryn: Yes.

Tim: For you, as you say, TriCaster is kind of where it is, and you've continued to be ...

Kathryn: I've continued to be. I'm open to other things, but when I use browser based switchers, it limits your creativity.

Tim: It does. Sure.

Kathryn: It limits your creativity partially because you're doing this as apposed pulling and ... Quite seriously ...

Tim: The user interface.

Kathryn: If I want to overlay four videos at once, because I'm streaming Amanda Palmer life from the Coney Island Amphitheater, and I've got three beautiful pictures that I want to combine, and then I want to pull out of that, and then I want to push back in ...

Tim: Nice, nice.

Kathryn: I need things to have my fingers on.

Tim: Yeah, yeah.

Kathryn: It just doesn't work.

Tim: It's old-school TV switching at its finest ...

Kathryn: It is.

Tim: Going out across the web.

Kathryn: To me, this is the things that I'm most proud of, because cost ... We cost something.

Tim: Mm-hmm (affirmative), sure.

Kathryn: We cost nothing, but we cost something. You know what I mean, as opposed to a browser-based thing. I've had clients go, "Well, I can do this with my phone," and then eight, two hours later come down and go, "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. When can we work with you again," because…

Tim: You were giving them something magical.

Kathryn: The experience online ... The audience is saying, "This is as good as being there," which it isn't for everybody, but it is for somebody. In some ways it's better, because you're not going to see that tight on her hands when you're in the audience, or you're not going to see the way her chest heaves or something.

Tim: You talked about the future, and one of the things that has concerned me about 4K is it's almost too good quality.

Kathryn: It's interesting.

Tim: I come out of film, 35, where we could soften an image on somebody, but noticed with 2K and 4K that maybe the closeup on the hands shows the veins a little too much or something like that. How do we take ultra resolution and still make something beautiful, as opposed to realistic.

Kathryn: That's a really good question. I don't know that I have an answer for that. I will say when it comes to live mostly, when my clients start talking in 4K, my answer is, "I will save in 4K for you. I'm not going to stream in 4K for you." I actually haven't thought about the beauty element in the way that you're talking about, if that matters.

Tim: Well, it's why [inaudible 00:06:14] and a number of the others in the old days, it was the Vasoline on the filter to be able to soften things down in a way.

Kathryn: Well, now we have our own look. I've got my high-definition powder on right now.

Tim: What else in sort of a future of live do you see?

Kathryn: Interactivity.

Tim: Yeah, okay.

Kathryn: It's all about interactivity.

Tim: Okay.

Kathryn: It's funny. We're about to be on this panel, and we are all saying the same thing. There's also no in fighting about it. To me the reason we do live, the reason I was turned onto live was not because I was watching Chris and Jeff do a show with two cameras. It's because in the middle of it they said, "Oh, and Kathryn Jones is out there," and I went, "That was an experience."

Tim: Right, sure.

Kathryn: I will never forget it. It was 10 years ago, but my heart started to beat, because I realized this is something new, and this is something where your audience literally becomes a shared part of your experience.

Tim: Right. Absolutely.

Kathryn: That said, with my clients, it's the thing they resist the most, but it is the thing that is stickiest, that is the most engaging. It is the reason why people come to live, so engagement.

Tim: It's theater in the round, on a global scale ...

Kathryn: Yeah.

Tim: From that standpoint. What's interesting about that is, as you say, with the interactivity, I had Gregrian, whose company Spree, was on ...

Kathryn: Oh yes. I just saw him.

Tim: The panel. One of the things that he said was they don't want to drive people away from that video stream at all.

Kathryn: Yes, yes.

Tim: They want the purchasing to happen within there. I think it's key, and follow up with that, is we've got to look at the model of how do we standardize around things that allow us to have as easy a production conversation as we had with closed captioning and line 29, and all those kinds of things. Interactivity still seems to be sort of the Wild West. How did you ...

Kathryn: Yes. It's funny ...

Tim: For you, what does interactivity mean?

Kathryn: All of those things. It's funny.

Tim: Okay.

Kathryn: That you say it's still the Wild West, because 10 years ago it was clickable video.

Tim: Right.

Kathryn: Same idea. Everyone was working on clickable video, and it kind of never took off.

Tim: Sure.

Kathryn: There was a platform that I loved called Huzza, and they handled this beautifully. Everything was on screen, the chat, the selfies, all on screen. There's all these different ways to handle it, whether there's hardware solutions, there's software solutions. I don't know. Does it need to be standardized eventually? I assume that it will be, but right now, there's some very exciting software solutions.

Tim: Maybe we let the innovation run for a couple years ...

Kathryn: It needs to.

Tim: See what happens, and then decide, because visually, I don't think from a storytelling standpoint, we know how to deal with interactivity seamlessly.

Kathryn: I agree, and it's partially also because our videos are still square, in 16:9.

Tim: Right, true.

Kathryn: They don't necessarily have to be. I was playing with the idea years ago that was never brought to fruition, but where the video appears in multiple places across your page, and there's actually no reason why it can't, and sometimes it does.

Tim: Sure.

Kathryn: Now we're still in there. We're still in the 16:9 screen.

Tim: We probably don't want the Fahrenheit 451 white clown on all the, everywhere around us, but ...

Kathryn: No.

Tim: On the other hand, you're right.

Kathryn: There's a lot more options.

Tim: There isn't any reason to do storytelling across multiple, small ... It's almost like building video walls into your web browser if you think about it.

Kathryn: Yeah.

Tim: What else from a future standpoint?

Kathryn: That's the big one to me.

Tim: Okay.

Kathryn: Well, it's that, and if there is going to be a future. I don't mean to be negative about it, but I'm just quite honest. For instance, Facebook changes the rules all the time. They are trying to cut down on people posting still images as a live video, because people will post a still image as a live stream with poles over them.

Tim: Got it. Okay.

Kathryn: They're trying to cut down on that. The reason they're trying to cut down on that is they think that it depletes the value of live. They're promoting live, but if people start to understand that live is a gimmick. I think the best Facebook consumer live streams are done with a cell phone. It's brilliant. She makes so much money, and it's done with her cell phone, but it's brilliant.

I think if that is the direction we move in people will be bored and will tune out. I think part of it is how do we figure out serious visuals.

Tim: One last question about the future of video, live video. Will it be portrait mode or landscape mode?

Kathryn: Landscape. I have one caveat: I have a client who insists on square, and I resisted, resisted, resisted. Evidently, square gets shared more and seen more. The reason why is because, look on our cell phones. If it's square, you don't have to turn it around.

Tim: Either way.

Kathryn: Square is definitely better than vertical, because you don't have the space on either side.

Tim: Right, right, right. You don't have the black box.

Kathryn: Given my choice, 16:9, but my second choice would be square. Vertical, no thank you.

Tim: Why not 1.77:1? Let's go Cinemascope. Let's go ...

Kathryn: Well, why not?

Tim: Yeah, I mean really, I don't understand why we, as the computer technology industry, has locked onto 16:9.

Kathryn: I don't either, actually.

Tim: When there is so much wider palette that you can work with from that standpoint.

Kathryn: But our phones, but our phones.

Tim: True, and that was a physical constraint in the building of initial phones, but now it shouldn't be.

Kathryn: It won't be. LG has a phone with a huge screen, and they'll keep moving out.

Tim: All right. The future of video, the future of live, the future of interactivity. If you're here at the show, you can come see the panel in just a few minutes. If not, you can catch the panel live on streamingmedia.com. Thank you again for joining us.

Kathryn: Thanks.

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