Streaming Everywhere

Does this Zoom webcast interface look familiar to you, especially since quarantine started? 

This is my first blog entry since we’ve been stuck in quarantine from the Covid-19 virus. Like all of you, I’ve been feeling the full range of the human experience—fear, uncertainty, boredom and frustration. We’re definitely in unprecedented times and one constant I’ve been noticing a lot is that the weeks and possibly months of quarantine are leading to some interesting behaviors. If you consider yourself an introvert, you gain energy and engagement from being with yourself. If you’re an extrovert, you gain energy and engagement from socializing and being with other people.

In my circles, Zoom has been the webcast tool of choice since the quarantine began, but many others are using similar other tools too.

While quarantine is difficult for all of us, it has shown me that contrary to popular belief, I think that there are few of us who are all introvert or all extrovert. It seems more likely that each of us shows a disposition for being either an introvert or an extrovert, but most of us have elements of both qualities in our personality. It’s in times like we are in that introverts may be gaining a bit of a longing to go out and socialize since in quarantine, it’s been weeks of staying indoors, while those of us who are more extroverted may be dying a thousand deaths at not being able to go out and hang with people at all.    

Microsoft Teams has been the webcasting tool of choice in a lot of very Microsoft-centered workflows at large corporations that my brother and several other friends and colleagues work at.

The most immediate solution to our very human problem of isolating through quarantine seems to be streaming. Whether it’s Facebook Live, Microsoft Teams, Zoom or Facetime, I’m noticing a lot of activity with live streaming/webcasting the past three weeks. I sat down with a vendor this past week for a one-hour training via a Zoom session about a new audio app I’ll be writing about here soon. My wife, who is a teacher, has been on two to three webcasts per day since quarantine started a few weeks ago from her school and next week will begin teaching her students via Zoom. My friends and relatives all seem to be streaming for their work. We’re even getting together tonight for a Zoom “party” to catch up with our friends who we haven’t seen for quite a few weeks now. I’m not even sure exactly what we will do, but it will be good to hear what they’ve been up to, see their faces and hear their voices since we can’t meet up thanks to the quarantine.

For those who spend a lot of time on Facebook, Facebook Live is the natural choice to live stream. We’ve used it on a documentary series we’ve been shooting at some sporting events and it works surprisingly well, even from our iPhones out on a boat offshore. As long as you get cell service, it seems to work.

From a professional viewpoint, to me, this entire virus event feels as if it could be the beginning of a sea change in how people regard webcasting/live streaming. More people are using this technology now than probably ever have from a numbers standpoint. More people are probably discovering many tasks, meetings and gatherings that they had previously thought of as a “live, face to face” thing that are now being done virtually with live streaming and may shift more toward webcasting and live streaming even when this Pandemic ends.

Jimmy Fallon streaming live from his kid’s playroom for The Tonight Show.

Major entertainment from networks like NBC, such as The Tonight Show, are webcasting to broadcast live and live to tape from Jimmy Fallon’s home. DJs and musicians are live streaming to their audiences. DJ D-Nice has been hosting weekly dance parties called Club Quarantine where millions of people are live streaming his DJ sets and dancing “together” in their homes.

Right now, people who are quarantined, which is a good portion of the world’s population, don’t really have a choice about live streaming, it’s the only option for people to reach their audiences with new, live content now that most televisions studios and networks, at least here in the United States, have severely reduced their staff and many have closed or are running with a skeleton staff. Today is March 29, 2020, and predictions are that the virus outbreak will become worse before it gets better. When it does get better though, once we’re on the road to recovery, what will this all mean to live streaming/webcasting?

DJ D-Nice has emerged as one of the breakout new stars of the quarantine for hosting streaming, on-line DJ sets and a social media dance party called Club Quarantine.

I shoot documentary films, some entertainment programming and some corporate work. Up until this pandemic, almost all of my work was shot, edited and distributed through social media, broadcast and occasionally in theaters and through corporate internal networks. How does what has been happening with live streaming affect what I do for a living? At this point, I can’t really say, I don’t think anyone can. We won’t know how viewing habits and how viewers consume media will truly change until we’re over this pandemic and life begins to return to the new normal. I have some idea though about directions I’d like to take when we get to that point though.

The success of live streaming and webcasting seems to be tied to authenticity, being more conversational/confessional than presentational.

Authenticity

For those of us who aren’t Gen X or Millenials, media through this Pandemic and quarantine, to date, has proven that just like demographers and sociologists tell us, what matters most is authenticity. Seeing a celebrity or newscaster broadcasting from their living room or kitchen on their phone is proof of this. Take away the nice lighting, top-end cameras and professionally recorded and mixed audio and what you’re left with is either the real deal or it’s not. If authenticity is still there, the audience will still watch, even without all of the niceties of good production value.

The Media Is Changing Or Has The Potential For Change

In our relentless search for the next “big thing” with what we video professionals become consumed with, specifications, ever-increasing resolution, HDR, full frame and all of the other fads we have seen explode in popularity over the past couple of years with image-making, strangely, doesn’t seem to matter much when it comes to live streaming and webcasting. Most people view webcasts on either their phone or tablet and some on their laptops. All of sudden, 4K, 6K, 8K, HDR and FF don’t seem to matter a whole lot. What matters more from a technical viewpoint is having a reliable, fast connection at the upload and download end.

Most major new film releases from Hollywood during quarantine have either been delayed or put onto streaming instead of being released in theaters.

I’m not sure exactly what’s happening with media through this pandemic and quarantine that seems to be sweeping the world, but it feels as if some things are evolving and once things somewhat return to normal (or at least the new normal), it appears that some priorities may be changing. One thing to think about as a content creator is that in one fell swoop, the entire media industry has been placed on hold—there’s literally almost no production happening in TV and features, and even limited live streaming and webcasting beyond a few from their living rooms.

Think about all of the projects that you were working on (I had four projects cancel as soon as the quarantine orders went into place) that now may or may not happen. Look at all of the projects your friends, colleagues and clients were working on that have all been halted, stopped midway or just went away. Hopefully, we can all take some lessons from this shared experience and begin to think in a new and innovative way how to protect our industry and hedge our bets so that if and when another situation like this arises, we’ll be better prepared, creatively and financially to weather the storm.

My recent experience using Live Stream Studio has really redefined exactly what’s technically possible with webcasting.

For me, a key component of this new preparedness is to more fully embrace live streaming and webcasting. Both seem to be fairly disaster-proof unless the entire structure of the internet goes down. I’m thinking of new ways to try to tell stories and communicate with my audience during these times of unprecedented disruption and it seems that mixture of traditional programming (documentary and short clips) that can be streamed, mixed with live, authentic, real-time content could be an interesting mix that I haven’t seen done with webcasting much.

Regardless if you currently shoot or produce live events, documentary, narrative, music videos or commercials, how has the pandemic and the ensuing quarantine affected how you produce content? What’s changing for you and for your clients?

If you think about live streaming/webcasting as regular live TV but over the internet to anyone’s phone, tablet or laptop, the potential for creatively applying the medium is mind-boggling. It’s an infrastructure that can be put in place now, today, easily and quickly and executed at almost any level, from Facebook Live from your handheld phone to full-on multi-camera, professional-level live broadcast and everything in between. For those of you who plan on sticking with production once the pandemic passes and life returns to the new normal, it’s time to dig into your skills, thought and creative process and be on the leading wave of change in media that I predict will engulf us all. It’s time to adapt or perish.   

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