Diving into live broadcasting may seem a daunting prospect to comms teams, but one local council rose to the challenge.
By Daniel Cattanach
Ever since Periscope first popped up on Twitter a year ago, I’d been keen to make the most of the live broadcasting app.
I've seen some great uses of Periscope - ranging from movie stars delivering live Q & A sessions in the palm of my hand, to one of our local BBC journalists catching the trackside action as some of the world’s best riders whizzed past her mobile phone in a prestigious cycle race.
However, the prospect of making the leap into live broadcasting can fill even seasoned comms professionals with trepidation. Sure, like many of our peers, our team has successfully embraced opportunities for content generation - including creating a set of short films on social media which helped drive up voter registrations and encouraged people to turn out on polling day. The difference with recorded videos is that you have editorial control - you can do re-takes and add post-production finishing touches in the edit. But that safety net isn't there with live footage. What if you mess up the shot, someone fluffs their lines, or worse still, they say or do something unsuitable for broadcast?
On top of all those concerns is the nagging doubt of whether anyone would actually want to watch a live broadcast from their local council, when there's so much other content vying for their attention? Thankfully, we found that our latest campaign to engage potential voters had successfully captured the imagination of our audience, and they were tuned in to our creative videos and images - which helped us to gain over 8,000 local electoral registrations in just one month.
Buoyed by this positive reaction, I installed a couple of live streaming apps to my phone - the ubiquitous Periscope and another option - Live on YouTube. Whilst Periscope offers the opportunity for viewers to interact with the live broadcast, and potentially direct the action, the footage expires after a day or so. However, the appeal of Live on YouTube is that the recorded videos can remain on the site for as long as you want.
In advance of our planned broadcast from the referendum count venue, we ran a few tests of Live on YouTube in our office to ensure everything ran smoothly. On the night of the count, the stage was set and we had the technology - all I needed was a cool head and a steady hand. No pressure then!
The atmosphere was building inside the venue - amongst the count staff and assembled journalists alike. Building on this, we took the opportunity to tweet photos from behind the scenes and encourage any last-minute voters to have their say. As my confidence grew (along with the audience interest, via Twitter), I joined the BBC and ITV camera crews in filming the first ballot boxes arriving at the count. The recorded video was posted online within seconds and received numerous retweets, including those from local news outlets.
As midnight broke and the verification of votes led towards a total turnout figure, my finger was poised to transmit the official declaration of voter numbers in our first ever Live on YouTube broadcast. However, the app failed to perform as well as it had in our trial runs - and the footage lagged behind a little. Repeated efforts to get the app working caused similar frustrations, and the decision was swiftly taken to switch to Periscope. What a difference it made - we were broadcasting online in no time at all, and able to link up with Twitter easily, without any stalling.
Our first Periscope was up for barely a minute - just testing the water to catch the count staff in action. However, despite it being past 1am, we found there was an appetite for us to open up local democracy in this way.
Spurred on by this public support, we dived in with a longer broadcast which spent a good few minutes leading the viewer on a walkabout through the count venue - including panning along the counting tables, going behind the scenes of the centre of operations and turning the camera on the assembled pack of journalists in the media enclosure, before doing a final 360 degree recap of the entire hall. This first full Periscope of ours was retweeted by one account to 266,000 followers and we were urged to do more.
Our anticipated 2am declaration of the vote result was soon imminent. I assembled myself alongside our local TV, radio and print/ online journalists at the foot of the declaration stage, with my smartphone poised in a prime position to catch the live result. Holding the camera phone steady in both hands and tucking my elbows into my ribs so that my body could pivot in a smooth panning motion - handy tips I picked up from a BBC journalism blog - I kept a steady shot throughout the declaration, before panning to catch the audience reaction, and then returning to the stage for the speeches from campaigners reacting to the outcome. I was even able to broadcast live interviews - a good few hours before they would appear on the breakfast TV news bulletins - as the council was the only media channel to live stream video. Our Periscope broadcast even featured on the ITV news website.
Almost 200 viewers tuned into our live Periscope - not bad for 2 o’clock in the morning. We have plans in the pipeline to explore more opportunities for live video streaming via smartphone, such as the upcoming Police & Crime Commissioner election in May. So I'd be keen to hear about anyone else’s experiences - especially if you have advice or apps for keeping broadcast videos online, long after the Periscope has come down.
Daniel Cattanach is news and media manager at Bath and North East Somerset Council.