On 4 February, thousands of TPPA (Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement) protestors filed onto Auckland’s city streets carrying signs, chanting and blocking off access to motorway access points to mark their objection to the agreement as our government was putting pen to paper. And among all the chaos were the nation's media outlets, all competing to get the best coverage of the event and live-streaming it directly to thousands of online viewers.
Live-streaming news can have some pretty incredible benefits. The viewer can tune in and feel like they’re right there at the scene, it’s immersive, real and raw and viewers can feel assured that what they’re watching isn’t edited footage that has been washed with any kind of bias, conscious or unconscious.
On the day of the TPPA signing, RNZ, NZME, Fairfax, MediaWorks and TVNZ gave it go, and the preliminary results suggest we might see more of this in the future.
TVNZ’s One News Now live-streamed the protests and signing for several hours with reporter Jessica Mutch and cameraman Lea Scott-Donelan, following the protestors across town.
The live-stream was the most watched live-stream One News Now had run since it launched mid-last year, says TVNZ communications manager Emma-Kate Greer. “TPPA-related videos made up six of our top-10 watched videos [on the day] and overall video viewings were more than 50 percent above normal. This online interest was also reflected in the viewership of One News at 6pm which has a 41 percent share.”
MediaWorks’ Newshub live-streamed the protesters via Periscope and live-streamed the Newshub Midday bulletin via its app and desktop web, with live crosses to the protests, as well as live-streaming Newshub Live at 6pm, according to MediaWorks acting publicity manager TV3 and Four Amy Prebble who says the website and app were significantly up on viewer numbers from the same day a week earlier.
Fairfax and NZME both experimented with Facebook’s live-streaming app, Facebook Live.
As well as using Facebook Live, Fairfax (which used smartphones for its streams) used Livestream, a service allowing users to log in online and use smartphone cameras to broadcast directly through to the feed embedded on Stuff. It had four live streams throughout the day, says Fairfax Digital head of video Asher Finlayson.
He says he was impressed with the reach through live-streaming. “We have had some really good success with Livestream.com that we have done before and we are reaching a decent audience but the majority of that is coming through our Stuff audience, but the advantage of using Facebook [Live] is we can ping out an advisory to our audience who follow us through Facebook so we can reach further. So we reached about 1.2 million viewers across three videos.”
He says Stuff had 38,000 reactions, views and shares and closer to 300,000 views and that adding a live-stream in addition to a live blog is completely immersive.
Though there weren’t any technical difficulties, Finlayson says when you are dealing with live video all sorts of things can go wrong. “But we had a nice, solid connection … both streams were on 4G networks. The network played a huge role and with that number of people around you have to be mindful of overloading. We have had problems before with our feed dropping out over the 4G network when there is a lot of people in the area. So to be able to do that one phone in the middle of a protest is pretty amazing.”
Finlayson says over 400 Fairfax staff across the country have had training in how to use their phones for filming and editing and using live-streaming.
“We’ve done a huge amount from a training perspective for our team. They all know how to use smartphones and it’s across Periscope. It’s just another piece of tech that we can all use.”
NZME had staff at the event and planted around expected hotspots throughout the city, live blogging and live streaming.
NZME digital editor Irene Chapple says video and images were central to the coverage . “ … we had live footage of people in the crowd, giving instant feedback on what was a historic day for this country.”
She says the coverage drew a lot of attention. “Both on social media, and through the live blog on nzherald.co.nz.”
One of the Herald’s live Facebook streams had over 320,000 views alone, she says. “Moving into NZME Central has allowed us to really maximise our multi-media capabilities. Live-streaming is one part of this mix and we’re moving rapidly towards being able to deliver stories in all forms, at any time. Our journalists are being equipped to tell stories in the way our users want them – be it through live streaming or blogging, interactives, video packages or long-form.”
RNZ’s head of digital Glen Scanlon says RNZ also ran a live blog, and had John Campbell in the field. “He took about three hours doing it on and off, which is a fantastic effort and he did an amazing job. We had other journalists in the field helping with the live coverage.”
He says the coverage fed into the live blog. “Then we were pulling in John’s stuff from the venue where it was signed.”
The live-stream itself had about 10,000 views, he says. “Which are really fantastic numbers. It’s a new technology and it brings some challenges with it.”
He says RNZ will definitely use more live-streaming technology, especially after enabling the capability for it for Checkpoint.
“Over the period of John Campbell’s walk around it was a great response … The material on the website had tens of tens of thousands of page views. I suspect that [on the day] we probably had an excess of 100,000 page views. We had four record days in a row for user numbers and for page views and user sessions.”
Live-streaming, particularly during events as inflammatory as the TPPA signing, attract many eyeballs—which is good news for media companies dabbling in the technology. But there are also a few concerns attached. And one of the clearest examples of this lies in the tendency of people on the street to drop F-bombs when in front of smartphone.
So can media companies avoid this? Is there a way to moderate the content being streamed?
The simple answer to that is no; and Scanlon says there is always a risk when live-streaming.
“[The day of the signing] was essentially raw footage and John [Campbell] talked about that on the live-stream. He certainly had one woman swear on camera, and he had to say ‘No, you can’t do this, you are live on people’s computers’ and he addressed that very quickly and put a bit of structure around it,” he says.
“[Campbell] said that what you see with most journalism is a final product, whereas this is raw which means you’re getting an awful lot of views and things being said, so some of it may not be coherent but it’s providing a wider picture of how people see the issue.”
He says the technology needs to be used wisely, and you wouldn’t take a live-stream that covered seriously offensive material.
“I think it’s early days, and we will have a bit of a chat about it and get a bit of feedback from people and [on signing day] people were delighted with it and how it was handled.”
Chapple says the Herald will pick and choose its uses of it. “Our focus is audience experience and sometimes bite-size chunks are more appropriate. We need to be thoughtful about what we live-stream and what is better delivered as a polished multi-media experience.”
She says moderation is important. “ … but with any story, our journalists would have an instinct for where they need to be careful and adjust their coverage accordingly. We also have a world-class team of social media producers focused on ensuring the content is delivered appropriately.”
Finlayson says it's very difficult to enforce processes with live-streaming. "It is live and you can’t control what’s going on and there’s all sorts of people out there that want to abuse the system, they will do what they’re going to do whether they are live or not,” he says.
“In saying that, we trust that our audience is smart enough to know that we don’t have the control over what is going on and our job is to be there showing the audience what is happening. If someone is going to swear or run past and pull the fingers or streak, we can’t control that. We do our best to avoid that, we won’t put the camera in any kind of position which puts people in harm’s way, but all we can really do is put a warning up and say ‘we are running live coverage, apologies if any of the contents [are offensive].”
He says that’s the nature of a protest. “People are going to use that language and make those sorts of gestures and write those kind of signs, but we do our best to avoid it but it’s all part of what happens.”
Another thing to note about live-streaming, is that in a protest situation like the TPPA signing, grabbing random protestors (which in a lot of the mainstream news coverage tended to be the ones who were most eye catching or crazily dressed) and asking for their opinion, isn’t really reflective of the thousands of people who attended.
In this sense, it is much like conducting a vox pop, interviewing random people on the street about an opinion or issue.
Naturally, with an event like the TPP people flocked to the protest who weren’t even sure what it was about, because there was a huge crowd, a buzz, an event, and they wanted to check it out. And with live-streaming there is the danger of giving segments of opinion as news, rather than hunting down organisers of the protest and asking for informed opinions and creating a discussion that New Zealanders can understand and partake in.
The Spinoff’s José Barbosa gives a rundown of the media coverage in this clip. He thinks the media made New Zealand look stupid and made fun of protestors, rather than discussing the more important aspects of the trade agreement, perhaps enhanced by the internationally shared clip of Steven Joyce being hit in the face with a dildo, which (while funny) is a distraction of the important details surrounding the TPPA, and of what New Zealanders actually think.
While he wasn't specifically discussing live-streamed footage, this type of coverage could be a danger as when news is pre-packaged there is more likely to be two opposing opinions or two sides of an argument from two informed parties rather than, in this case, the opinion of a sample out of thousands.
That said, live-streaming will continue to play a major role in telling the news as the technology continues to evolve. And as journalists continue to immerse themselves in the action, viewers will be exposed to an unfiltered version of the news that has until now not been accessible through the pre-packaged approach of a conventional bulletin. Needless to say, there will be a few more F-bombs dropped into streams along the way.