Berkshire Hathaway’s First Live Stream Brings Global Audience to Hear the “Oracle of Omaha”


Jun 14, 2016, 09:33 AM by Regina McGee

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It’s been called the “Woodstock of Capitalists,” thanks to the investors who flock to the event from around the globe. The annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting draws thousands of attendees and media representatives to Omaha, Nebraska, home of Berkshire Hathaway, Inc., the holding company for a multitude of businesses run by Chairman and CEO Warren Buffet.

Hailed as an investment guru, Buffet is one of the world’s richest and most respected businessmen. Those who flock to the annual shareholders meeting treasure the opportunity to hear from the “Oracle of Omaha” in person. Buffet and his longtime vice chairman Charlie Munger hold an hours-long Q&A session, which is the hallmark of the meeting. The two offer views on everything from the global economy to politics and the best investment picks for the year ahead.

On April 30, for the first time ever, the company live streamed the Q&A session. Through an agreement with Yahoo! Inc., the live stream appeared exclusively on the Yahoo Finance website, viewable for free on all devices. According to preliminary reports from Yahoo! Inc., the event set a record for live viewing of a corporate event, attracting about 1.1 million unique viewers who watched 17.6 million minutes over the Internet.

The move to live stream the event was a big cultural shift for Berkshire Hathaway. In the past, even cell-phone videos and audio recordings were prohibited at the meeting. “Over the past 50 years, we’ve seen a tremendous increase in the interest around our shareholders meeting. Partnering with Yahoo Finance provides us with the opportunity to reach more people than ever in key financial centers around the world,” Buffet said in a press statement before the event. The live stream was simultaneously translated into Mandarin. Buffet has a big fan base in China, and as many as 3,000 attendees at the live event hailed from that country.

Additional reasons for the live stream were given by Buffet in February in his annual letter to shareholders. “First, it may level off or modestly decrease attendance at the meeting. Last year’s record of more than 40,000 attendees strained our capacity. In addition to quickly filling the

CenturyLink Center’s main arena, we packed its overflow rooms and then spilled into two large meeting rooms at the adjoining Omaha Hilton. All major hotels were sold out, notwithstanding Airbnb’s stepped-up presence. Our second reason for initiating a webcast is more important. Charlie is 92, and I am 85. If we were partners with you in a small business, and were charged with running the place, you would want to look in occasionally to make sure we hadn’t drifted off into la-la land. Shareholders, in contrast, should not need to come to Omaha to monitor how we look and sound.”

For diehard fans of the event, however, there is nothing like being onsite, where a carnival-like atmosphere prevails. The weekend event includes a packed exhibit hall, where products from Berkshire Hathaway dozens of subsidiaries —from Brooks running shoes to Pampered Chef kitchenware — are for sale at discounted prices. Attendees can also get a chance to compete with Buffet in the annual newspaper toss contest, table tennis competition, and bridge tournament.

After the meeting was over, Buffet told CNBC that attendance was down by by about 10 percent from the record 44,400 people who attended last year, which marked the 50th anniversary of the company. With the live stream capturing a huge remote audience, Buffet said the live stream “worked like a charm,” and that he plans to do the stream again at next year’s shareholders meeting.

The live stream video, fed from Berkshire’s cameras, was in high-definition and could be replayed for free on finance.yahoo.com for 30 days after the April 30th meeting. According to Andy Serwer, editor-in-chief of Yahoo Finance, Yahoo did not receive a fee from Berkshire Hathaway for streaming but was permitted to do its broadcast and interviews from the exhibit area and to sell advertising on its live stream.

Regina McGee