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How to Deliver Great Interactive Streams at Scale

An inevitable question for any streaming strategy or workflow is, "Will it scale?" When it comes to incorporating interactivity, promoting it, and delivering interactive experiences that are satisfying both for large-scale streaming audiences and the brands behind them, this question is more mission-critical than ever. Jason Thibeault, Executive Director, Streaming Video Technology Alliance, discusses this topic with Corey Behnke, Producer & Co-Founder, LiveX, Jay Kopelman, VP, Client Solutions & Digital Architecture, B Live, and John Petrocelli, CEO/Founder, Bulldog DM, in a recent panel at Streaming Media Connect 2023.

Thibeault asks the group, “How do you incorporate interactive elements into these live streams, and what considerations are there for doing that at scale and making sure that the experience is good? How do you promote interactivity? How do you promote this engagement?”

Behnke says, “The number one reason to livestream, to not just play back some video, is to engage your audience and have them interact with the viewer and the talent. And what's funny to me is how scared brands are to do this. The bigger the brand, the more scared they are.” He highlights a recent interactive event produced by LiveX, which involved major brands along with Twitch users. “We had a Shorty Award-winning six-camera Twitch stream with Starfish in Madwell,” he says. “Verizon was the main client. It's one of the coolest things we've ever done. We basically [worked with] this Twitch streamer, AverageJonas. We did a GoPro rig, and it was completely live. It was cool because they had actors as non-player characters that this Twitch streamer could go and talk to. And I was like, ‘This is what I've been trying to do for 15 years of my life! We had 87,000 concurrence. But what was cool is we built a tool to take the chat so that he had a progress meter, and he had the different things that he could do so he could choose what to do, and then the viewers could kind of choose for him. But what was crazy to me was that it was Verizon and Xbox, so it was Microsoft. So they were a little bit more like, ‘Hey, we're going to do this on this kid's channel, so we're going to help facilitate this experience.’”

Behnke emphasizes that the “engine work” must be done for maximum effectiveness and streamlining of live interactivity while using various applications. For example, he says, “We take the YouTube API [to be] able to take the chat out of that and put it into another module that can do other things that can push graphics. I think you have to do the engine work on whatever platform you're going to use because as you increase concurrent viewers, it is very hard to keep up. And you really need an engine to hold that information and be able to push that out graphically.” He mentions that LiveX produced an MLB Home Run Derby on TikTok. “We were trying to kind of replicate [the DIY Twitch productions] with a little less of all the different jangly things going on and trying to be more specific about that interactivity,” he says. Still, he notes, major brands remain hesitant to stage interactive streams at a large scale due to technical concerns, even though that level of engagement has been called the “future” of live streaming for a long time now.

Thibeault asks Kopelman about his thoughts on the hesitation of major brands to move into large interactive streaming productions.

“It's definitely building that relationship over time with those brands,” Kopelman says. “Help them understand that you do know what you're talking about, and you can show those successes and then they'll be more willing to go out on the limb and do some of those crazier things.” He highlights some elements that improve overall user interactivity. “Onscreen graphic elements, thermometer type stuff, that just really great to show people that you're still connecting,” he says. “There's a lot of choose your view type of experiences where you can show people multiple angles and have them pick what out of those things they can see.” He also discusses the types of workflows that B Live uses. “That ends up being a 4K quad feed that we stream, and the end users ingest but don't know they're really watching that type of quad. They're just choosing a region of interest around that interface. And so…since we're doing the production, we can build that quad. We can do a 4K full transmission workflow and delivery workflow, and that's one way that the end digital experience can affect all of the video production behind it.”

John Petrocelli goes further into the reasons why major brands remain hesitant to stage large scale live productions. “[Their] level of anxiousness and anxiety is off the charts, and rightfully so,” he says. “They're putting their brand and their name out there in real time to anybody. And I think [in] the early days of this industry, it was newsworthy because of the well-known failures. The Victoria's Secret crash or Oprah Winfrey doing a broadcast that I think failed and didn't make it to the air. And that got a lot of news coverage…And I think in the pandemic, you saw all these companies that went out and got all kinds of funding and try to do shows with music artists. And it was a failure every week or every other week.”

However, Petrocelli says, the right approach can greatly ease the concerns of major brands. “If you can make them comfortable and you do it in the right way, the result is pretty significant,” he says. “And they're pretty happy, and they're going to get into this with some programming and some cadence around how they're going to properly market going forward. And we spend a lot of time talking to people about taking traditional media dollars and putting it into this medium because of the results. And it's a fraction of what they're spending, but the results more than speak for themselves.”

Learn more about a wide range of streaming industry topics at the next Streaming Media Connect in November 2023.

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