LIMES Workshop Recap: The Core Concepts of Live Streaming, Ideal Formats, and Next Level News TV Webcasting

Last month, the LIMES consortium met for a workshop at the DW Lab in Berlin. Our goal (apart from discussing the status of the project): to try and create a basic concept for a new (augmented) live streaming format that would appeal to a modern news organisation–and to once again discuss the key question what live streaming is actually about. Here's a summary of what we came up with.

While reassessing video live streaming as such, we quickly realized that "l'art pour l'art" is still a poor concept. Just because you have a neat collection of smart devices with high quality cameras and lightweight tripods, a fast internet connection, and lots of web platforms to publish on, doesn't mean you need to live-stream content all the time. Regular, edited web videos (or regular TV programming streamed via the internet) are just fine most of the time. So the question is: When does it actually make sense to switch to a live stream?

There are basically five answers:

  • When you need to react to breaking news lightning-fast
  • When the outcome of breaking news (with a lot of relevance) is completely uncertain and you'd thus like to cover the events as long as possible
  • When a big event of global relevance is coming up, and you'd like to report on it in a multiperspective way
  • When you'd like to do any of the above without a lot of overhead/on a budget
  • When you can expect an "I want to be a part of this!" effect, i.e.: when a massive audience is likely to be glued to their smartphone screens and generate lots of UGC on social media
Video live streaming: Why and how? Snapshot from the Contentflow/LIMES Session in Berlin, September 2019

As a consequence, it makes sense to keep experimenting with the following live streaming formats:

Live from the scene

This is the most obvious use case: An editor sends an experienced reporter (who should be comfortable in front of a camera) to: a convention, a conference, a meeting, a sports event (maybe add live footage from body cameras worn by athletes?), a political rally or a site of a natural disaster (additional live drone footage can be interesting in this case). Go where the action is. Bring your gadget, switch it on. (Once the internet connection is stable, a big non-technical challenge remains: How to be close to people and the event–and keep a journalistic distance at the same time?)

taz journalist Martin Kaul using Periscope/Twitter to address his audience while reporting live from the “Sachsengespräch” (Saxony talks) in the aftermath of the far-right Chemnitz riots of 2018.

Live from the newsroom

This is where editors and/or experts get behind the stories, analyze the status quo, and offer their insights. In order to do so, they don't need much more than a relatively quiet spot in the newsroom, a basic technical set-up–and quick access to all the info that has been gathered on the topic in question. This format makes sense when a breaking news situation requires a lot of contextualization and explanation, e.g. on the night of a national election.
Live Q&A

This one is actually a variation of the "live from the newsroom" scenario, the main difference being the interactive aspect of the format. Instead of editors, reporters, experts etc. sharing their views in what is mostly a monologue, they now directly address the questions and comments sent/posted by their audience. Needless to say, this format calls for fully fledged social media tools and a team that's able to moderate and structure UGC.
Original web broadcast
This very promising, yet still relatively rare piece of online TV programming is a sophisticated mix of all the formats mentioned above. And it's actually classic news television–but with enhanced interactivity, reduced production costs, and completely taken to the web. A streamed program like this ideally features anchors, editors, reporters, experts, guests, audience feedback, live stats, and augmented contextualization.

How tools like Contentflow/LIMES can make live streaming better

Overview of current streaming sources in the Contentflow/LIMES backend

Maybe now is a good time to take another look at the Contentflow platform and the LIMES features and summarize how and why they could help make streamed TV both more interesting and more cost effective.

Let's focus on the monetary issues first. A fully implemented, augmented live streaming hub like Contentflow/LIMES would mean:

  • less (eventually: zero) expensive traditional live connections, as everything can be replaced with streaming signals
  • less errors/interruptions when streaming live (as streams can be templated, buffered, quickly restarted, seamlessly switched)
  • more reach (as each and every regional streaming service can be included in the platform)
  • easy brand recognition and more ad revenue (as streams can be easily branded and/or augmented with links to related/long tail content)
  • easy exploitation of digital broadcasting content on the web (as the platform offers clipping features for social media)
  • optimized workflows

Regarding increased attractiveness of live streams, the system imagined by us would allow for

  • more interaction (comments and polling via stream overlays)
  • more contextual information (manually produced and automatically detected)
  • a better look and feel (customized designs across platforms)

Live from... ...all over the world

Mock-up of a multi-source/multi-screen live webcast using Contentflow/LIMES

With the best practices for live streaming and the benefits of Contentflow/LIMES in mind, we thought of a basic concept for a program that would take news TV web casting/journalistic live streaming for international (or at least: internationally represented) broadcasters to the next level. Its working title: "Live from... all over the world".

The idea is to use cost-effective streaming solutions to set up parallel live connections to several studios abroad (say: Beijing, Lagos, Paris, Moscow, Washington) and reporters in the field. Connections could be kept on for several hours if newsworthy events unfold, users would get to switch between stories at any given time, and the software would make sure terminated connections are automatically removed from the live streaming multiview on receiving devices.

Topics would ideally have a high global relevance: Journalists/reporters could for instance cover the different instalments of and reactions to the Fridays for Future movement. G7 summits (including rallies in protest, international comments on what has been stated by world leaders), or US elections (including reactions to the outcome) would be other promising use cases.

As an alternative to covering political news, TV journalists could also offer insights into the daily routine of citizens in a variety of global cities–or allow viewers to get a fuller picture of their own media organization. Why not stream a morning briefing, an editorial meeting or the preparations for a bigger TV production?

An expanded, more sophisticated versions of the global live streaming program could feature: additional contextual information via overlays, journalist-viewer-interactions, multilingual on-the-fly subtitling (using tools like news.brige and SUMMA), and 360 video streaming (ideal for conveying a sense of space).

To make streams more exclusive and rekindle that old school TV feeling, programmers could choose to set some streams to "live only" (i.e.: there wouldn't be any official recording and thus no way to rewatch content on a social platform or in a media library).

Getting newsrooms ready

Naturally, TV news rooms will have to make an effort to get ready for the age of augmented multiview streaming via cloud platforms and hubs. That being said, editorial managers and decision makers won't need a big budget to accomplish their mission. All it takes to get the live stream carousel going are a couple of mojo kits (phones, tripods, lighting), apps like OBS or Wirecast, access to and templates for Contentflow/LIMES, and–of course–a couple of workshops and test runs. Last, but not least, there should be a sufficient debate on ethics and press law, as an increased number of (hours-long) streams from all kinds of places will also increase the chance of undesirable things happening in front of the smartphone lens.

All in all, we like to think that the latest achievements regarding video streaming/cloud infrastructure in general and Contentflow/LIMES in particular hold quite a bit of potential. Every editor or reporter with a set of (absolutely affordable) digital tools and a bit of practical knowledge can contribute to a new school of live video journalism that's creative, participatory, and sustainable.

Key visual by Adam Nieścioruk on Unsplash

Alexander Plaum