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Let’s rewind to the end of the last century. Back then, you’d find user-generated content in home videos or on community access TV. And the quality was…um…why don’t we say it was local-in-the-extreme. Sometimes you might discover a talented host like Tom Green, at the beginning of their career. But he was the exception, not the rule.

Fast-forward to 2016 and easy access to livestream video. Now it’s not only our own cable shows, we have our very own channels — 24/7. On Periscope, YouTube and now Facebook Live, you can find people talking into, pointing at or swirling around pretty much anything.

Case in point: I recorded a test video during a podcast a couple of weeks back and before I could delete it, there were a fair number of comments and 560+ views. It was a one-minute, one-sided conversation that, for whatever reason, found its own small audience.

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but not the viral video

Of course that pales when compared to Buzzfeed’s watermelon explosion video on Facebook Live, which had 800,000 viewers watching two people, who looked like they worked in a sterile food plant, meticulously place rubber bands on a piece of fruit – in real-time.

What does that mean? Well, we’ve always been drawn to crazy stunts and train wrecks – everything from PT Barnum and Jumbo the Elephant to the Donald to Will it Blend.

Livestream video just puts those curiosities into the hands of the masses. And as with social media, democratization will exponentially increase the amount of digital crap. So while we’ll find a few gems, you can bet people will start complaining about the pollution and harken back to the halcyon days of YouTube stars.

The thing is, if you don’t want to watch videos, do as Howard Beale says and “Turn them off.”

Testing, testing – is this thing on?

For the rest of you non-curmudgeons, this early discovery phase is an ideal time to put on your studio lab coats, hone your talents and experiment.

Here are a few things to consider before you hit record:

  • The pen is still mightier than the sword. Start with an idea, a story, a script. You don’t have to write everything down, but unless you’ve done this 1,000 or more times on network television, it’s probably better not to wing it.
  • Look both ways before crossing the street. The frame is more than your grinning mug in the centre. Look at the peripheries to make sure your shot is well composed and the background isn’t too cluttered. This goes for cinema style and vertical video.
  • Steady as she goes. Good hand-held camera work means a steady hand and that’s hard to master in the excitement of a video selfie. Use a tripod or place your camera in a steady spot so people watching don’t get seasick.
  • I can’t hear you. Sure we’ve got a hi-res camera in the palm of our hands, but the mic is cassette recorder quality at best. Sound counts.
  • Practice makes palatable. There’s a good reason why film, TV and theatre folks spend hours rehearsing. Learn from them.

The reality is most of us will never be TV star material – even on community cable. And good quality video – whether film or TV – takes education, talent and a lot of hard work.

Back in the early ‘80s, there was a breakthrough alternative television program in Toronto – The All Night Show. The premise was that Chuck the Security Guard uncapped a live camera after the station had signed off and started talking to whoever might be tuned in. But, Chuck had access to a treasure trove of long unseen videos and TV shows and bizarre guests. Plus, he was a professional comedian, writer and actor.

Today, we all aspire to Chuckdom, but most of us will never be Chuck.

Have you tried livestreaming? What’s your take?

A version of this post was originally published in Marketing Magazine.

About Martin Waxman


Martin Waxman conducts social media and online crisis training workshops, is a digital and communications strategist and speaks at events across North America. He's the co-founder of three PR agencies, president of a consultancy and has worked in the industry for 25 years. He writes a monthly column for Marketing Magazine, teaches digital strategy and is chair of PRSA Counselors Academy.

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