TEDxSydney streams 200 per cent of their annual ideas event, according to Stuart Buchanan, head of marketing and content. Aside from live streaming the TED talks which make up the bulk of the program, they provide additional live online content featuring behind the scenes interviews with speakers, before and after the event and while the physical audience is taking breaks throughout the day.
Streaming for TEDxSydney has, thus far, been critical in reaching an audience not only too large to fit into any of their previous venues, which include Carriageworks and the Opera House, but also an audience which is geographically spread out across the world.
To give an idea of the scale of the numbers, capacity at the Concert Hall in the Opera House is 2500, a number so insufficient to demand that the audience underwent a selection process.
However, the numbers of those who tuned into the live stream throughout the day sit around 125,000, and include viewing parties in Moscow, Mumbai and New Zealand.
While a move to the International Convention Centre Sydney in 2017 promises at least double the physical audience capacity and a more traditional first-come-first-served ticketing model, Buchanan explains that a live stream remains essential to the TED philosophy.
“Certainly our ambition and TED’s ambition is to allow as wide access as possible to the ideas themselves. TED is all about the origination of ideas that are, in one form or another, helping to change the world,” he says.
“Those ideas often really take flight and spring into life once they’re shared. The whole purpose of TED is to spread and share ideas, therefore the live stream is a critical component of that.”
They actively encourage an online audience to gather, through TEDxSydney Live, which allows people to sign up as hosts of localised viewing parties and helps them to promote their party both online and offline. So are they worried about cannibalising their audience?
“From TED’s point of view, the live experience will never be replaced by streaming,” says Buchanan. “There’s something pretty, and I don’t use this word lightly, ‘magical’ about being together with like minds in a space; being privy to, receiving and sharing ideas in the way that TEDxSydney does. Being present with the speakers in the room, being present with others, being present with the community is really critical.”
TED talks presented during the Sydney event also find their way onto the official TED channels, thus furthering their global reach – the talks from 2016 have amassed over 200,000 views in less than a year.
Conal McCullough, director of Creo Media which specialises in live and on-demand video streaming and webcasting solutions and is the broadcast partner of the Australian Event Awards, agrees that a live event experience will never be replaced by a live stream of an event’s content.
“It’s not always the content that draws people to these events. It’s the networking, catching up with peers, meeting the speakers,” says McCullough, adding that the “reach of the audience you’re going to gain” makes live streaming of an event worth it.
But he says streaming is not as well marketed in the events industry as it should be because event producers are concerned about the reputational risk of recommending it to clients.
“They’re worried about the risk of it not working, the risk of pushing for marketing dollars to get the live stream in, where is the ROI on it?”
McCullough says there are lots of reasons why they should do it, however streaming should not be considered an add-on by event producers, as is often the case.
‘It’s all in the prep that makes the difference between a really good or outstanding live stream or just having a live camera feed. For us, delving quite deep into the actual scope and pre-production of the project, getting into those discussions early – that’s where it really pays dividends. We can help shape what’s going to happen on the live stream rather than just turn up with a camera.
“It’s not just pointing a camera and turning up and pressing go. It’s a show people are going to watch. Integrate your online audience into the show – make it watchable for them.”
Creo Media, unlike many other streaming services, decided not to build their own streaming platform, instead holding licenses to the many already available and picking the one most suitable for each project.
What they have built is
a virtual NOC (network operations centre) allowing them to pull a live stream from any device with a camera and an internet connection and mix it with any other live stream from anywhere in the world. So, for example, they could mix high production stage shots at a music festival with crowd cam shots from a number of people in the audience filming the experience on mobile phones.
They also provide an integrated service, managing everything from the AV to capturing the stream and delivering it online to the virtual audience – a process that is often split up and delivered by multiple suppliers.
McCullough points out that once a live stream has been captured, it provides a significant amount of marketing collateral for the next event.
“You’ve got the content – why not repurpose it?” he says.
This longer term strategy of making video available post event is one used extensively by Mumbrella360, the Australian Event Award winning conference for the media and marketing sector.
“To me [having video is] all about adding noise and weight to the event,” says Mumbrella’s founder and content director Tim Burrowes. “One of the reasons we do it is that thing of ‘look what you missed – think about next year’. It’s not a business model in its own right at all, it’s an ad for next year’s event”.
Mumbrella has experimented widely with live video over the years. The first time they ran their Awards, most of their audience experienced it through a live stream with only a handful of shortlisted people in the room. They invested a lot of effort into Google Hangouts when they were big, but currently limit their live streams to tantalising future attendees with live chats and recaps with speakers that have just come off the stage. Although their headline sponsor PwC uses a live stream to broadcast the closing keynote, the Entertainment and Media Outlook, which serves as a launch of their major annual report.
And they certainly don’t see video streaming poaching an audience of a live event.
“My sense is there’s something inherently different about being at an event, being in the room, being present, where your attention is 100 per cent undivided, versus watching something on a laptop or a mobile… so it feels to me that video is not particularly threatening to the live conference or the live event,” says Burrowes.
Conal McCullough will present a session titled “To stream or not to stream: The paradox of not cannibalising your physical attendance by offering a live stream” at the Australian Event Symposium on the Sunshine Coast in September.