Will the trend of live streaming live well past the pandemic?

Virtual events and streaming is fast becoming the new norm as the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic continues. Major marketing events have turned their attention to the world of digital. Adobe, for example, has taken its annual Summit online, while Microsoft's Build developer conference was also turned into a digital event earlier this month. One medium that goes hand in hand with virtual events is live video. Facebook, for example, saw the number of views for Instagram and Facebook Live in Italy double within a week, Alex Schultz, VP of analytics, and Jay Parikh, VP of engineering said in a recent blog post. Meanwhile, Cisco's Webex is experiencing an "all-time high" when it comes to monthly, weekly and daily active users, CNBC reported.

Quoting App Annie, CNBC also said that Zoom is currently the most popular free app in dozens of countries. As of 21 March, its stock also rose 26% since February, CNBC added. And while the demand of virtual technologies soar sky high now, it is worth wondering that if and when the virus clears, will these companies still thrive?

In a statement to Marketing, CEO of Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN) Singapore Prakash Kamdar, said the trend that is currently unfolding is "likely not one-off". Therefore, it will fundamentally change the way the live events industry operates and de-risks its business in the future. When it comes to live streaming sports and gaming, in particular, Kamdar said the idea of watching and interacting with athletes and talent as a whole through live streaming platforms is only gaining more traction, especially with younger audience segments. 

"If online gamers can stream their games for others to watch, so can physical world gamers [those who play on gaming consoles]," Kamdar said. Even musicians have turned to live streaming during these trying times, from well-known artists such as Diplo, John Legend and Charlie XCX on Instagram, to indie musicians such as Marc Rebillet and Ducky on Twitch.

Moving forward, the new normal for live events, sporting or otherwise, will without doubt be heavily influenced by the events and circumstances of the last two months. "This is because the events have just about brought the industry to its knees, thus forcing it to rethink its future business model," Kamdar explained.

Like Kamdar, Thanendran Thanesvaran, head of sports marketing, Reprise Digital Malaysia also agreed that digital platforms will garner the most engagement, especially with more consumers staying at home. "This is already in motion with many events offering a pay-per-view experience. It will be interesting to observe this trend once restrictions are lifted as consumer behaviour will likely adapt towards this new norm," he added.

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Although live streaming is unlikely to replace the multi-sensorial experience of physically attending a live event, Kamdar said in this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, recent events will led event organisers and sponsors to rethink their business model to include a strong live streaming format component. 

The most obvious advantage of live streaming is the convenience of making audiences attend their events with little effort required.

Live streaming also offers a greater reach. Quoting Adobe Analytics, Kamdar said this year's Super Bowl in February was the most live-streamed Super Bowl in history, delivering an average per minute audience of 3.4 million, up 30% over last year and up 103% over FOX's last Super Bowl stream in 2017. Live streaming also allows for greater engagement and interactivity through features such as providing trivia or real-time stats during the broadcast. Such resources are normally not available right at consumers' fingertips and Kamdar said it will allow audiences to feel more connected to event, or a team should it be a sporting event. Another crucial about live streaming is more monetisation opportunities.

"Providing supplemental links to purchase tickets to the next live stream and player biographies or merchandise, can entice people to take the next steps to support their team, and bring in more revenue," he explained.

Drawbacks of live streaming

However, live streaming events will still require extensive consideration of practicalities - especially when it comes to sporting events. Ian Loon, CEO, Publicis Media Singapore said these include considerations such as the health safety of individuals behind the scenes, and whether millions of dollars should go into facilitating an F1 race without live ticket fans, for example.  "There seems to be more health and commercial risks than returns for most," he added.

What these event brands can do, especially for those who have painstakingly archived and curated years and decades of content from past events, is to consider how to release and engage their fans with their legacy, digitally, Loon explained. For example, the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Turner Sports can offer all fans a free preview of its subscription-based product, NBA League Pass, until 22 April. The complimentary offering will provide consumers with all games from the 2019 to 2020 season, as well as an expansive archive of classic games and content. Similarly, the National Football League (NFL) in the US is offering its NFL Game Pass free of charge to US and international fans until 31 May and 31 July respectively. The complimentary access offers game replays, as well as NFL game archives and shows.

"Stories of how sporting nations, events, celebrities and fans picked up after previous global or regional crises would go far to show that even during such painful times, there is hope and optimism that things will get better," Loon added.

Meanwhile, DAN's Kamdar said technical errors such as slow internet connection can be frustrating and ruin a viewing experience. Live streaming can be a double-edge sword for monetisation too, as some platforms do not offer pay-per-view sales, subscriptions or ads, he said.

As with all live events, it is the multi-sensorial experience that gets the adrenaline pumping and consumers hyped up. Since this is an area that live streaming would not be able to replicate, Kamdar said event organisers would need to think hard in order to achieve an "as close enough" experience. Additionally, since live streaming is unlikely to replace the multi-sensorial experience of physically attending a live event, event organisers would need to think hard about 

Agreeing with him is Reprise Digital's Thanesvaran who said watching sports, in particular, is an experience of its own. Athletes are averse to playing in an empty stadium. Similarly, fans also wish to witness the drama in-person at the venue. "A sport is only as great as the fans, and in American football, it's said that the 12th man takes the team over the line. So, no amount of cheering at your screen will help your team," he added.

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