Four years ago, live streaming was something of a novelty at the Republican and Democratic national conventions. Major news outlets streamed portions of the 2012 conventions on their websites, along with commentary and context. YouTube was the official digital live stream partner for both the Republican National Committee (RNC) and the Democratic National Committee (DNC), although relatively few viewers watched these streams. Facebook, Twitter, and other social platforms weren’t yet into video, and live streaming apps on cell phones hadn’t yet arrived.
What a difference four years has made!
The 2016 Republican and Democratic conventions last month offered a bonanza of live streaming options, thanks to better cell phones, better bandwidth, and more media platforms, but most of all social platforms partnering with news organizations to deliver live streams directly to users’ social feeds.
Twitter, for instance, struck a deal with CBS News to run the network’s live feed on its platform — annotating coverage, not surprisingly, with real-time convention-related tweets. ABC News teamed with Facebook, providing 24-hour live coverage and commentary of both conventions on its Facebook pages. And the Facebook Live lounge, set up at both conventions, hosted 22 media partners that live streamed from the lounge in scheduled slots.
YouTube was once again the official live stream partner for both the DNC and RNC — this time providing 360-degree video, viewable as well in virtual reality with Google Cardboard. But organizers of both conventions also worked out arrangements for live stream on multiple channels, including Twitch, xBox, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Direct TV, and Bing, in addition to leading social media networks like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook
Moreover, the official mobile apps for both the RNC and DNC conventions for the first time offered a live stream of each party’s convention, including a 360-degree video option. The free apps could be downloaded and used by anyone, not just convention attendees.
“The idea is that we want to make sure people can get our content anytime, anywhere, through any device. As a result, more people will be engaged in the process,” DNC Chief Innovation Officer Andrew Binns told Yahoo News the week before the party’s convention opened. “We are going where the people are,” RNC’s Digital Director Samantha Osborne said in the same article. “Media is changing and we have to adapt to reflect that.”
What Event Organizers Can Learn
What can hybrid/virtual event organizers learn from what Ad Week dubbed “the most innovative, live streamed political conventions of all times”? Three points rise to the top as critical takeaways from the DNC and RNC playbooks:
1. A comprehensive digital/social media strategy needs to further strategic goals and mesh seamlessly with the live events.
Here are just two examples illustrating how effectively this was done at the two political conventions.
- RNC speakers had their photos taken for Instagram and answered a question asked of them on Snapshot before they went on stage. Immediately afterward they did a live-streamed Q&A session on Facebook Live, the social media giant’s exponentially growing streaming service.
- DNC organizers created a production studio in Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center, where the convention was held. The studio broadcast satellite and radio interviews with top newsmakers and — in a first for a national convention — offered a nightly program hosted by celebrities and aimed at capturing the attention of millennial voters. “DNC Live” was streamed across nearly a dozen platforms.
2. Use live streaming and social media not just to reach more eyeballs but to encourage digital engagement.
At the RNC convention, for example, a curated collection of live Tweets appeared throughout the convention on huge LED ribbon boards around Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena, where the convention took place. Both conventions encouraged viewers to send in questions via social media for presenters and celebrities featured in various live-streamed programs.
3. Live video streaming is a powerful communication and marketing tool for event organizers, and with mobile apps and social platforms jumping on the live stream bandwagon, it’s one that will continue to see explosive growth.
Just one set of numbers from the two conventions helps illustrate this point. While YouTube’s live streams of the 2012 political conventions did not generate impressive viewership, 2016 told a different story. YouTube, the official live stream partner for both the DNC and RNC, said that streams of the two conventions were viewed live over 9 million times, with viewers tuning in for 25 minutes on average. These figures are just for the official live streams — there were many other unofficial streams on the site and so the aggregate number of views was much higher.
"Overall, I think what we are seeing is that live video is becoming increasingly important," said Brian Blau, an analyst with market research firm Gartner in an article in Computer World about the unprecedented level of streaming at the two political conventions. "Today's youth are starting to use and interact with live video on many different platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Over time, we will see engagement increase, too, as organizations want to make sure they have as many touch points with their constituents as possible."