Streaming the Future

Given the popularity of live video in Google Hangouts, Apple’s FaceTime, and Skype, many of us are replacing phone calls with a live web-based video call.

I’ve been predicting for some time now that this type of technology will morph and soon enable people to live-stream events from their iPhones or Android phones to their friends on the spur of the moment. It appears that time is upon us, and this article shares some of my thinking on what’s happening and whether it’s good or bad for the arts.

First, the news. At the recently concluded SXSW, a new app called Meerkat was a big hit. The app allows users to set up a live video stream from their mobile phone or tablet, easily send a link through Twitter to their followers, and then stream whatever is happening at that moment to the users’ community, for whoever is free to watch.

Click here to watch. 2:14

Let’s say you’re going bowling and you want all your friends to watch you bowl a strike. Just fire up the app, send a link, and your friends can watch you at that moment! If YouTube is a repository for videos of events that happened in the past, Meerkat is about what’s happening right now.

What makes this even more interesting is that Twitter bought a company, Periscope, and launched a service that does pretty much the same thing. It’s all happening very fast, so the facts are murky — but it doesn’t take much creativity to predict that Facebook will follow suit quickly if this catches on. The main point is that live-streamed video is hot. Meerkat announced that it now has more than 300,000 users.

For those of you who work in the live event business, whether it’s a concert, a play, or a visit to a museum, the implications for live-streaming are profound — both positively and negatively. Obviously, the idea of someone sitting at the back of a concert hall live-streaming a concert is frightening for all sorts of reasons. Setting aside the intellectual property and union infringements, the disruption to others is a big issue. And what about someone who goes to a movie, places herself in the back row, and streams the movie to her friends?

Nonetheless, this change appears to be upon us, so rather than focusing on the downsides, let’s look for some upsides. If handled right, couldn’t a live- stream be a fantastic advertisement? I think we can all agree that “being there” is something that can’t be replaced. But if we give people an exciting new window into seeing what it’s like to be at our events, it might actually convince people that that’s where they want to be in the first place. After all, the VCR didn’t kill the movies, despite early fears that it would.

The question is: How can our industry adapt to this new reality? It seems to me that the excitement of being in a theatre can be translated via a live stream in interesting ways. Just as live sports broadcasters do interviews with athletes after the game and at halftime, how about a live interview with a violinist who just stepped offstage? Or an actor who just finished a play? Or the director at intermission? Forward-thinking organizations should spend the requisite time figuring out the legal and operational hurdles to let people stream. Maybe you have to sign up in advance? Maybe, as with “tweet seats,” we set up a row in the back or in the balcony for this?

Just as with the speculation around the new Apple Watch, nobody is sure whether or not live-streaming will become a major consumer activity. Only time will tell. But my suspicion is that it will become popular very quickly, and those organizations that get out ahead and embrace the technology are going to reap the early benefits.

So, rather than telling the audience when they can’t use their phones, how about if we start telling people when they can — not only to post pictures (as I blogged about here ) but also to live-stream. Let’s give people a good reason to use their mobile devices — one that helps our organizations grow!

If any of you try Meerkat at your organization, please comment below and let me know how it went.

Learn More about PatronManager, the powerful CRM platform that helps you sell more tickets, raise more money, and cultivate stronger bonds with your audience, all in one database.