Exciting and immediate, the rough edges and risks of live broadcasting have long been key to the medium's appeal. Who can forget 80s Saturdaymorning TV show Going Live, and the phone-in during which a cheeky viewer asked pop band Five Star: 'Why are you so f***ing crap?'
The clip, which is now a YouTube classic, also illustrates the risks brands face when diving into the live arena. While lower costs of production and technological advances have put the creation of live online video within the reach of many brands, the medium is not without its hazards.
Despite the obvious risks, major brands have mostly avoided having their own 'Five Star moments' and the vast majority of live activity they have undertaken has gone without a hitch.
Last month, for example, haircare brand John Frieda jumped in to the live online video space with the launch of its Live Haircare Academy (see Expert comment, below right). The styling session was screened live on a dedicated website. Coca-Cola has also put its weight behind the live experience (see box, below).
Ash Bendelow, director at creative agency Brave, which devised the John Frieda Live concept, says that creating live video affords brands the opportunity to create an owned-media proposition. 'Live gives us the platform and forum to create a closer relationship between consumer and brand,' he adds.
However, with this opportunity come huge challenges. 'We can plan as much as possible, but live content goes hand-in-hand with anxiety,' he says.
The social partner
While media owners and brands have both been talking about the huge potential of live for some time, the medium is still in its infancy. Speaking last summer at a technology conference at Lake Tahoe in the US, Napster co-founder and early Facebook adviser Sean Parker said: 'No one's nailed live video.' However, experts argue that the phenomenal growth of real-time social media over the past 12 months is 'catnip' to the growth of live online video.
Mel Exon, managing partner at BBH Labs, the innovation unit of ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty, says that social-media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter share the immediacy and currency of live video. Indeed, for many brands dipping their toes into this area, it has been social media that has provided the first opportunity.
Having hosted a live video question and answer session with Madness frontman Suggs for Kronenbourg, and Formula One racing driver Jenson Button for Johnnie Walker, Exon has first-hand knowledge of the potential pitfalls of live video. 'The first thing brands need to do is be really clear on the purpose of the content and sure that consumers know the terms of engagement,' she says.
Additionally, Exon advises brands to be careful that the technology is in place to mitigate against problems. Teaming up with established media-owners who can provide almost bullet-proof broadband has become a popular choice for risk-averse marketers.
Another direct route is to partner live media-owners, such as music video website Vevo, which currently screens 25 live events a year, in partnership with brands including American Express, Ford and Microsoft.
Rio Caraeff, president and chief executive of Vevo, says brands cannot simply purchase 'live' off the rack or a rate-card, as such stand-out events are scarce. However, tying up with established players could limit their risks.
'We have been working for 12 months ahead of the live streaming of the US festival Bonnaroo, and everything from chat moderation to filming logistics has been considered,' he adds.
Of course, expecting the unexpected is still part of the package, argues Caraeff. 'Live experience and the sense that something can go wrong is all part of the excitement.'
The right fit
While it is now easier and cheaper to create live content, and distribution is more reliable, it is not necessarily the right channel for every brand.
Anna Jones, digital and strategy director at publisher Hachette Filipacchi, which recently live-streamed the Elle Style Awards, says live content works best when there is some sort of exclusivity involved. Giving consumers access to an event traditionally available only to VIPs, or streaming exclusive backstage footage, is key to engagement. 'If you keep the content online, consumers can come back to it later,' she adds.
Brands are also experimenting with the distribution of live content across digital outdoor sites. Heineken celebrated last month's UEFA Champions League final with a live 'tweet map' on digital outdoor screens. These used Heineken bottles to show the volume of people tweeting about the final across the globe.
Dan Dawson, digital director at Grand Visual, which created the campaign, says that media owners are 'slightly wary' when it comes to live work. 'Some landlord contracts contain stipulations that all advertising messages must be pre-vetted,' he warns.
Put simply, no one wants offensive statements or swearwords on their billboards. In line with this, 'live' outdoor sites carry either live updates from a specific controlled Twitter account (such as London Fashion Week) or more general visual representations such as the Heineken work.
Cinema is another medium that has embraced the possibilities of live activity. Jeremy Playle, sales director at cinema advertising house DCM, says everyone is trying to create content and events that are disruptive to the norm.
That has meant, for example, that actors have come into cinemas to bring to life 'interactive' ads for brands such as St John Ambulance. 'Live in itself is an extremely engaging positioning,' adds Playle. 'The growth of live sports and opera (being broadcast to) cinemas means the potential for brands to interact with consumers watching live events through mobile is huge.'
Looking ahead, this focus on live is only set to increase as emerging technology platforms such as web-enabled TVs achieve mass-market penetration.
'The IPTV effect will hit marketers like a freight train,' says Bendelow. 'There have traditionally been huge barriers for brands wanting to create live TV, but cost of entry is going down.'
The potential rewards for those brands that can integrate this real-time experience into real-time sales through ecommerce platforms are significant. However, marketers who fail to engage consumers, or do not have a real reason for creating live content, are likely to find themselves, like Five Star, facing some tricky questions.
CASE STUDY: COCA-COLA
Coca-Cola embarked on an ambitious 24-hour live event with pop-rock band Maroon 5 earlier this year, during which fans could watch, interact and influence the recording of an original song in real time. The group remained in a London studio throughout, to compose a song from start to finish, with fans invited to inspire the music-making via a virtual 'all-access pass'. The event was streamed live on Coke's music microsite, where users could see what was happening in the studio and then comment via Facebook and Twitter.
The studio was fitted with a system that enabled fans' comments to be projected on the studio walls. So, rather than the musicians sitting around a computer screen, the wall projections became a feedback loop between band and audience. The event was promoted to 20m consumers via Coke's Facebook page, while bloggers from nearly 20 countries were on-site to encourage participation from their followers. As a result, the live stream reached consumers in 139 countries.
EXPERT COMMENT: 'REAL-TIME, ONE-TO-ONE INTERACTION' - VICKI FRANKS, UK MARKETING DIRECTOR, KAO BRANDS
There is no better way to show the consumer that she is central to our business than by creating a live event that she can see she's participating in. The John Frieda Live Haircare Academy was the ideal platform for us to develop a one-to-one conversation with women and answer their questions.
It was important for us to watch what she was doing in real-time and then empower her to achieve the results of her salon stylist at home. This live interaction enabled us to impart our expertise, share salon-stylist skills and enable women to respond to our salon team in real time.
To ensure women tuned in, we optimised our social media platforms and reached out to key beauty bloggers, journalists and third-party sites to create awareness and encourage further coverage. The event ran exceptionally smoothly and calmly.
Trailblazing fashion houses are a key source of inspiration to brands looking to the potential benefits of creating live content. Live streaming of shows has quickly become a key communications channel for fashion houses such as Prada, Armani and Burberry. Technology gives each consumer a front-row seat at shows that were traditionally the preserve of fashion editors and buyers.
The website Fashforward.com, a dedicated interactive live-streaming fashion portal, which was created by Storm creative events agency and EVVO Media, a Singapore-based live streaming technology company, is at the forefront of the market. Not only are consumers able to watch exclusive fashion shows via the site, but retailers are looking to integrate ecommerce into these shows. In effect, consumers will be able to watch live fashion shows, select the merchandise they like, buy it 'off the runway', pay for it and check out, all in real time.