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How To Integrate Social Media with Webcasting

HuffPost Live panel discusses this important tie between on-air talent and the audience.

"We launched HuffPost Live a little over nine months ago, said Mike Whitmore, Head of Studio Technology for HuffPost Live. "The goal was to create a web and mobile platform for engagement that used webcasting as a core component."

"It's about telling everyone what's happening right now, putting users front and center to speak out," said Whitmore.

Whitmore's comments led off a panel discussion at Streaming Media East 2013, titled "How To: Integrating Social Media With Webcasting at HuffPost Live." He was joined by Tim McDonald, Community Manager for HuffPost Live, as they both discussed the business and technical aspects of running a 12-hour-per-day live webcasting news platform.

"It's not about breaking news," added McDonald, "it's about breaking conversations."

HuffPost Live sprang from a trend on HuffingtonPost.com. Whitmore noted that 75 per cent of comments on HuffPost were in response to other comments, so the same idea was leveraged for HuffPost Live.

McDonald said the community team consists of about 100 people in New York and Los Angeles, many of which are focused on finding the right guest for the right segment.

"One way we find guest commenters is through Twitter engagement," said McDonald. "We do 30-40 segments per day, so about 100 unique individuals are on air on any given day."

"We stream 8 hours live from New York," said Whitmore, "switching over from to New York to Los Angeles at 6pm Eastern Time, with an addition 4 hours of live streaming from Los Angeles."

McDonald said the production side of finding the right on-air commenters that have "skin in the game" sometimes leads to some very fast footwork.

"We've even seen video comments left after an on-air conversation started," said McDonald, "and we've been able to get them into the Google Hangout within four minutes of time. That's not typical but our on-air talent feel it's important to hear alternate voices and perspectives."

Whitmore said that Google Hangouts is their choice of video collaboration platform for tying on-air commenters into the conversation with the on-air hosts back in the New York or Los Angeles studios, but options like Skype or other video platforms aren't ruled out.

"We chose Google Hangouts because it's easy to add people, and we can have more than 3-4 within the Hangout," said Whitmore. "But we've found we typically don't want more than 5-6 people on the Hangout so that voices aren't drowned out."

"Google Hangouts rolls out features all the time," said Whitmore, "and since our on-air hosts and guest commenters may not be very technically savvy, we do a lot of handholding and on-the-fly troubleshooting."

"We work closely with Google and one feature we've requested is the ability to remote control the user experience. That will help immensely with the number one issue we seem to have on-air which is a guest commenter having their computer on mute."

"In terms of screen real estate, we shrunk the video screen down, making the comment section equal in size," said Whitmore. "In addition, for our on-air talent, which aren't traditional, have a green room for their topic-based segment in which they can interview potential on-air commenters."

McDonald added that the growth has been incredible, and that there have been learnings they've used to enhance the on-air production and delivery experience. According to stats the HuffPost Live team shared, their live webcasting viewing times are four times the industry average for audience stickiness and engagement.

"We were at upwards of 51 million video views in the month of March," he said, "compared to 11 million video views in October, shortly after the launch of HuffPost Live. And, back when the election rolled around, we had over 200,000 concurrent viewers, and our platform was only three months old."

"Because there are no commercial breaks, and because we move from one segment to another in a round-robin fashion," he added, "there's a choreography of control room and camera operators that is very critical and something we don't see in traditional media newsrooms."

McDonald said the lack of a set schedule can be a challenge, but it benefits the HuffPost Live team in terms of better quality content.

"We don't have a set schedule to when segments will run, as we find that some conversations last more than 20-30 minutes, and we don't want to end the conversation," said McDonald. "On the other hand if a segment isn't going anywhere, we won't keep it online unnecessarily.

"We produce over 100 clips per day, which are pushed up to Huffington Post and monetized through pre-roll advertising," said McDonald. "We have fully redundant systems in both New York and Los Angeles, allowing clip producers to constantly clip highlights and push them to HuffingtonPost.com"

When asked by an audience member about the potential integration of HuffPost Live's model for traditional broadcasting, Whitmore said one problem was the ability to engage on-air commenters from the living room.

"Until your living room becomes more engaging, we don't necessarily see this merging with broadcasting," he said. "But we plan to use the next nine months to enhance our workflow. Now we can have a clip up within ten minutes, but we'd like to do even better."