FIRESIDE CHAT WITH VIACOM

The LiveFronts buzz continued as Sue Claxton and Kiel Berry made their first public appearance since being named Co-Heads and SVPs of Viacom Labs last week. In their panel, “Moving Toward the Future: A Fireside Chat with Viacom,” they spoke with BRaVe Media Ventures Co-Founder David Beck about key insights and pertinent questions that have come from early initiatives at the creative incubator.

They’ve identified interactivity as the key to successfully engaging audiences and incorporating live stream into television. It’s clear that though live stream has been around for a long time, each iteration has brought more advanced technology and more targeted ways of involving fans in programming.

“We are very supported and encouraged to be taking these risks,” said Claxton of Viacom’s corporate philosophy. Berry agreed, adding that “the wheels have been greased throughout the organization because there is so much testing going on in live streaming right now.”

This past July, Viacom Labs launched an experiment that allowed fans to co-create the content they’re seeking out. In the new format, producers took one hour of music videos and called upon fans in New York, Australia and the UK to hashtag their own live streams. They pulled and layered this real-time video content over the existing programming, creating an interactive effect where fans appeared to be dancing in the music videos. 

The emphasis on innovation, coupled with learnings from this early-days project led Viacom Labs to partner with MTV Australia to launch a new television format – the first on-air show to integrate live content from fans, which will unveil in 2017.

The live content pulls from existing fan streams, drawing from most livestreaming platforms once fans use the designated hashtag. Claxton says it was a conscious decision to “meet [their] fans where they already are,” rather than use a proprietary Viacom platform.

When it comes to interactivity as it relates to live streaming, fans aren’t the only piece of the puzzle. “There’s always a space for brands on every medium,” said Berry, but both agreed that there was a learning curve with regard to working alongside brands to bring authenticity to both the content and the fans’ experience. They discussed the ways in which brands are constantly stretching the bounds of live for interesting integrations, whether they’re creating branded content, sponsored content, or using live video to amplify major announcements and create press-worthy moments.

The obvious next steps from the brand perspective seem to be creating new types of advertising that are native to live streaming. As Berry says, “there is so much white space” when it comes to this relatively new medium, and advertisers are going to need to start figuring out how to serve up ad units in an immersive VR experience, and the like.

“There’s obviously risks associated with it,” Claxton pointed out. The two ceded that while this is a potential drawback from a brand and programming perspective, it’s also that unpredictability and authenticity that is driving viewers to live video in the first place.


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