Sometime during the 2000s, there was a point where cameras and internet access were attached to so many phones they became ubiquitous. It’s hard to point out exactly when, but the smartphone really did seem to bring the whole world into the palm of your hand. Suddenly, it felt like, everyone had the means to self-expression online. There’s been much said about this but its impact on film, and on how we film, is still being explored today. One of these impacts is the creation of ‘live streaming. For the uninitiated, live streaming is when a video is broadcast live, with reactions and usually comments made in a live feedback loop. The reactions are real, the action is improvised, and the results are genuine (if not as slick as traditional formats).
Livestreaming has boomed and now dominates the media through corporate announcements, as ways for broadcasters to deliver news, and sometimes as a good old fashioned celebrity slip-up. Finally, a format to suit the age of online self-expression. But where did live streaming come from? Is it just for video gamers and celebrities? What sets it apart? To answer these questions and more, today’s blog will explore live streaming, its origins and what’s involved.
How did it start?
So, to kick us off, let’s dive into some history. Technically live streaming has been around since 1993 when the first online broadcast was created, with some mildly interesting but effectively unimportant live streams over the next 15 years. However, things start to kick off in the late 2000s. YouTube, then just developing into the behemoth we know today, hosted ‘YouTube Live’, an event that featured live-streamed performances from San Fran and Tokyo concurrently. While the event was successful and included Katy Perry, Mythbusters and Smosh just to tick off some 2008 bingo cards, hadn’t quite put live streaming in the driver’s seat. In 2011 a site known as Twitch began to grow to prominence and garnered much attention during 2014 when its ‘Twitch Plays Pokémon series went viral. Some 60 to 70,000 viewers were checking in to the stream, with viewers able to help control a single game online – smashing expectations and hinting at what’s to come.
YouTube cottoned on quickly, allowing live streaming to all users from the beginning of 2014, with Twitter and Facebook implementing similar capabilities in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Major media companies began to take notice around this time, with American TV network CBS launching a live-streaming news service CBSN and other companies following suit. Nowadays, many major companies have a YouTube presence that delivers live-streamed content to their audience, from NSW Health’s streaming of the daily COVID press conference to concerts performed by megastars and local musicians alike.
So what happened? How did live streaming become so big?
Well, gradual advancements in technology and online infrastructure, and of course COVID, have accelerated this phenomenon. The availability of high-quality cameras through smartphones has meant the barriers to entry are almost nil, as users can simply film themselves with only their phones. Popular live streams are also able to provide content for the streams in of themselves, as the audience participation is big enough to offer massive content for other viewers or even the streamer themselves. Social media companies have seen the potential in live streaming too, and have made it more accessible than ever before on platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Tiktok.
Finally, COVID 19 forced us all inside and gave rise to the dominance of Zoom, podcasts and – yep, you guessed it – live streaming. With so many activities done online, it was only a matter of time before live streaming became a dominant form of entertainment. Physical theatres began to upload recordings of plays, and major productions were performed and eventually created through live streaming to an audience. The TV and film industry suffered heavily under COVID but the creativity of nascent theatre combined online spaces and often activism to create Zoom plays like the Melbourne Theatre Company’s ‘Pandora’. Meanwhile, audiences for interviews and ‘webinars’ could watch live streams for special talks with guests in academic, political and cultural fields.
What’s in a live stream?
There are several cool techniques that make live streaming so compelling. The most obvious feature is the fact that it’s live, meaning what’s occurring on screen is not only happening in real-time but usually unscripted. While scripted live events are increasingly common, most live streams are off-the-cuff, helping them to feel more genuine. One of the most simple live streams are found on celebrity social media accounts, where the hosts will set their phone up in portrait mode and either show off their day or have a chat with responders. A massive part of the process is audience interaction, particularly with social media live streams, with viewers able to type messages that can be seen by the streamer on platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitch. Real-time comments can help streamers bounce off of content and answer queries directly while being able to adjust their actions and performances based on reactions. As communities continue to grow, online live streaming spaces develop their codes too, with slang, inside jokes and memes turning the comment sections of live streamers into entertainment sources themselves.
The portrait position helps to make the video accessible for mobile users, meaning viewers can use it natively as part of the social media use but also allows easier typing of messaging. Otherwise, classic live stream seen in live podcasts, reactions or video gaming is set up with one stationary camera, with relatively little movement. This may seem counter-intuitive given the shift towards micro-entertainment, but many viewers will have streams playing in the background, or will keep occupied through comment sections.
Popular livesteamers, such as video gamers, will often utilise a green screen in the background in addition to capturing live game footage, a modest upgrade. This can help streamers or performers perform longer, which is a benefit of live streaming. A key benefit of streaming is that the lower preparation needed means streams can extend for hours and hours, allowing their audience to tune in and out as they please. ‘Marathon live streams, including concerts and live table reads have used this to help with fundraising, in addition to good old fashioned entertainment. Overall, live streams are kept stationary and simple, or incredibly casual in the form of celebrity social media videos. The most important rule, however, is to not take anything for certain. Livestreaming is evolving with the times and is sure to be caught up in new trends of developments in technology. Keeping flexible and taking advantage of what’s available are key ways to deliver a live stream, and the adage of performing – ‘don’t bore your audience’ – reigns true.
Live streaming is just another way to film in the 21st century, and we at The Jasper Picture Company know how important it is to stay on top of the latest trends while having experience in traditional videography. As one of Melbourne’s leading filmography companies, we’re well-versed in meeting your needs and working with your ideas. Check out more of our blogs or our website to see what we can do for you.