The evidence is building that Generations Y and Z really do have no attention span. No, don’t stop reading there; this is important. Video marketers only have a third of a 15 second ad to capture someone’s attention before they skip ahead (assuming you haven’t blocked the ad completely). Millennials are turning away from TV in droves, favouring the curated skippable world of online video. From Twitter to Tinder, instant gratification is the order of the day.
Getting viewers to tune into live TV, rather than watch on demand or skip ahead to the best bits, is an increasingly tricky prospect. There’s little that people have the patience to sit through in its entirety anymore. With that comes potentially massive losses for marketers, who must now battle to become a more intrusive presence, or else find new ways to win attention.
The skyrocketing popularity of livestreaming – often just people broadcasting themselves on webcams – seems baffling in this context. But along with live sports, livestreaming seems to speak to the age of social media, and the need to be the first to react to an event. Live events and streaming sponsorships are fast becoming the most intimate way of connecting with your audience, ditching the traditional news cycle in the process.
A brief history of livestreaming
The potential of livestreaming as a consumer platform has been heralded for years. Once a curiosity reserved for rambling monologues and internet events, the technology came into the mainstream with the advent of streaming service Twitch.
The site formerly known as Justin.tv was an early proponent of an emerging craze: streaming footage of yourself playing video games. Helped by improving broadband speeds and growing alongside Youtube, Twitch expanded rapidly, and was famously purchased by Amazon in 2014 for $970 million. Amazon’s decision was questioned at the time, but it now seems prescient.
As dedicated platforms like Periscope have risen (and sometimes fallen), social media has got in on the act. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have all implemented their own livestreaming features, while YouTube has created an entire live platform to compete with Twitch.
Facebook has become particularly obsessed with video engagement, going so far as to incentivise posting videos natively and bury YouTube links in its feeds. Twitter meanwhile has signed deals for NFL matches, and YouTube has partnered with rights holders to stream everything from the UEFA Champions League to the Eurovision Song Contest. Even Yahoo got in on the act, although its TV shows and sports events failed to correct 15 years of decline.
Keynotes and conferences
The potential of live events to build excitement around a product is hardly new. Apple’s famous Keynote presentations have long been integral to maintaining its chic status. The company became more than a brand, gaining cult status even as a majority of people owned its products.
Rather than relying on other outlets to report on new features, Apple turned every iteration of its hardware and software into an annual event. By changing their development cycle to fit this yearly timetable, they made sure there was always something for people to get excited about.
Not every company has the ability to make systemic changes to its products or services at the same time every year. But the changes can be less momentous. One pertinent example is that of games giant Nintendo. When hardcore fans became disillusioned with the company’s direction, Nintendo launched Nintendo Direct: a quarterly, livestreamed (but pre-recorded) presentation by the company’s then-CEO, the late Satoru Iwata.
Iwata would personally provide exclusive updates on upcoming games and product launches, which would then be relayed by fans and news outlets. While Nintendo was much-loved, it had often been accused of being out of touch with global audiences, and of poor communication with its EU and American divisions.
Iwata’s refrain of “Please understand” when a product was delayed became an unfortunate meme, but the affable CEO’s colourful communications helped repair a decade long breakdown. After the Nintendo Power and Club Nintendo initiatives of the 90s and 2000s, disillusioned fans felt part of a club again.
Join the club
This perception of exclusivity is key to the appeal of the live event. Despite the fact that millions might be watching, globalisation means these numbers no longer seem so big. A YouTube video can have over a million views, and you might not know anyone who has seen it.
Livestreams on the other hand let you tap into an immediate conversation. A stream of comments (and often consciousness) next to the video lets you discuss the revelations in real-time. And when the event is over, you’re sent out into the world armed with brand new knowledge.
Being the first person among your social media circles to know something carries cachet, even if it’s meaningless in the grand scheme of things. By relying on individuals to act as miniature brand ambassadors, companies can reach new audiences in a much more natural manner.
Teasing a revelation avoids the need for relying on press releases to filter into the news cycle. You can sculpt your own news, and have people hanging on your word. This plays right into social media’s proclivity for sharing the latest news, with each viewer racing to post their opinion and share the news with their friends.
The result is greater immediacy, and more people attempting to get the word out first than would ever share a piece of news content. With a general climate of distrust in media and the embrace of ‘alternative facts’, your message may be more effective coming direct from your business than it would from a third party.
Keeping it real
All of this plays into a desire for a more real, unfiltered experience. Ten years of Twitter has helped create a world where celebrities feel closer to us than ever. Soccer stars play video game FIFA and talk to fans online, while the more ‘real’ approach of late-night hosts like Jimmy Fallon and Graham Norton has taken hold. And yet the approach of businesses remains rooted in old ideas.
Like Apple with Steve Jobs or Nintendo with Satoru Iwata, businesses benefit when they humanise their management and processes. Everybody understands that businesses need to turn a profit, but people like paying for products they enjoy. Demonstrating honesty, integrity and fun when promoting a brand helps build relationships that sustain themselves.
Many businesses have a significant online presence, but fail to build campaigns that take advantage of the platform. They run print ads as images on Facebook, turn slogans into clunky hashtags, and upload TV spots straight to YouTube.
When people like a page on Facebook, it’s usually not because they want to receive more ads for something they already like. It’s a public demonstration that they like the company and its output. What they need isn’t more ads, but a reason to evangelise and spread that love for the brand.
Whether you have fun with your own streams or attach yourself to something more saleable, livestreaming is here to stay. By adopting the principles of its internet platform – namely transparency and silliness – you can ride out the bumpy decline of traditional content marketing.