Unobstructed: Crawl. Walk. Stream. (EP. 4)

Nick Begley

Nick Begley

Senior Marketing Manager

Disruption often leads to innovation. With stay-at-home orders in place for many parts of the world, businesses and communities have turned to live streaming as a conduit to reach their customers. Rudy J. Ellis, founder and CEO of Switchboard Live, joins the Unobstructed podcast to discuss how organizations can leverage live video to share their content, engage with their audiences and generate revenue. He shares his thoughts on how to approach this new initiative, stressing the importance of getting going and then getting better. This is a must-listen for any live events professional that is considering or has recently started live streaming their content.

Episode transcript

Unobstructed: Crawl. Walk. Stream. (EP.4)



Announcer: You're listening to Unobstructed, your view on the live events industry.


Mike Evenson: Hey everybody, this is Mike Evenson, Chief Marketing Officer at Audience View. Welcome to another episode of Unobstructed, your view on the live events industry. Today I'm really excited to have one of my former colleagues and the CEO of Switchboard Live, Rudy J. Ellis joining the podcast. We thought it was a great opportunity to, as the lights are dark and people aren't able to go to live events, shift our focus to new and innovative ways in engaging your audiences and live streaming, while not new in general is really one of the only ways you can engage with audiences remotely in their house right now. So, we wanted to bring in an expert, someone who has spent their entire career, figuring out ways to engage people in their homes, finding new and exciting channels with which to do that. Looking forward to this discussion, so with that let's get into it. Rudy, welcome!


Rudy Ellis: Mike, thanks for having me man, looking forward to it.


Mike Evenson: So, have you been busy the last few days?


Rudy Ellis: Busy, busy is an understatement man. I think like you said, good lead in, live videos on a tear. People are looking for ways to communicate and social and live videos is a way to make that happen. So, yes, we've definitely seen an uptick in people inquiring about our services.


Mike Evenson: Yes, we'll get into all of that pretty soon. So obviously as you know, given our background together, live events are our passion. And when people can't go to those live events, it creates this massive hole. And, not only entertainment, but this just desire for connecting with people. And that's really missing right now. And it's been a challenge, and the way that people have responded has been really heartwarming and encouraging on social media and how people are innovating and finding new ways to create content and to engage with each other is, there's hope for humanity yet.

But a lot of our clients and a lot of the live events industry are kind of, you know once we've gotten through this couple week period of just madness where things just came to a screeching halt in organizations. We're figuring out what's the deal, what to do with their current events, and figuring out how to reschedule events or cancel events and all of that I think people are starting to kind of come out from that tidal wave and start thinking about, okay, this is a new world. I need to look at things differently now. We need to find ways to keep our business going, to find ways to connect with our audiences and livestreaming is popping up pretty significantly now, in parts of the industry where it wasn't before. You've kept, obviously you're keeping tabs on sports, music, arts, what are you seeing from your vantage point?


Rudy Ellis: Yes, I think, just like what you said is folks are now looking to leverage live to conduct business, right? So traditional face to face conversations, traditional conferences where you're having fireside chats, like now figuring out easy, simple ways to replicate those same scenarios or experiences using live video. It's probably one of the top search terms besides, you know, Covid-19 right. And what I've seen is just the inbound, the different types of people that are now looking to incorporate video from yoga instructors to real estate agents to informational speakers to mental health people talking about how to deal with the stress and things that are going on. Because everyone has anxiety and staying home and so forth.

So now live video is a way to help get whatever topic of conversation that you would normally have with someone in your office or someone you know in a local conference. But now you use social as a way to kind of get that out there. So, it's pretty interesting the types of people that are now looking for ways to be able to again to generate revenue, right. To do business and when I hope, and what I think is going to happen is you're going to start to see people realize that, hey this can be a way for me to continue from a business continuity standpoint. To continue to make revenue, to continue to have my brand and my messaging out there in the world versus just because I closed my brick and mortar doors, that business hasn't shut down. So that's where I think is going to become the new norm right. It's going to be a part of the process versus it just being like a gestational period where people are just using it for now.


Mike Evenson: So, with lots of organizations, kind of their primary revenue stream and really their channel of sharing content has been live, has been in person with people in the seats, and that occurring. In theater you know and even live music, you're not seeing kind of that simulcast, the live streaming, the sharing that's happening. And that pivot is something that everyone's going to kind of look at.

So, as consumers, we're all used to watching live video. We understand it from a consumer perspective, we use our favorite platform to kind of get access to the video. But flipping it around, a lot of people that you're talking to now, a lot of the interest around live streaming kind of exposes the backend of what this seemingly easy production looks like. And part of why we wanted to bring you on was to just to help people navigate and understand kind of the live streaming process and maybe help people feel a little more comfortable that it's not as challenging as maybe it is.


Rudy Ellis: No.


Mike Evenson: Well, why don't you just give an overview around, as rudimentary as it may sound, what is live streaming.


Rudy Ellis: Yes, so I mean, I don't know Webster's dictionary has the definition for it. But the way we see live video or live streaming is audio and video being sent over the internet and being consumed or watched by people on a device or a platform. So, if you've ever watched anything, live on Facebook or YouTube or even Instagram, right? You know, the term lives, is now becoming more common. That's because it's happening at that moment, it’s right then and there right.

Back in the day when we used to watch TV and the first time you could watch a show was, is right then and there when it's live. Whereas now, I think that whole nostalgic factor is gone. But one of the cool things about live, it is that fear of missing out, right. Being able to experience it for the very first time, being able to have that conversation and have a different reaction because it is going on right then and there.

And so that's, kind of high level, our way of defining what live video is it's purely the mechanism for audio and video to be transmitted over the internet and then be viewed on either an app or a phone or whatever the device is to watch.


Mike Evenson: And how challenging do you think it is for people to get up and running? So, what are, as our clients and kind of live event organizations around the world are considering this. Is there a process or a methodology you would point them to kind of say here's what you need to think about not only to get video, live video up and running, but then there's the whole monetization, which from live video, which we'll talk about later. But is there a methodology you'd recommend?


Rudy Ellis: Well, first you got to start, right? So, I would say that's probably step one is, making that initial effort to say, Hey, I'm going to do something right. Whether I'm picking up my phone and I'm streaming a conversation on Instagram right. That's to me, seems like a nice easy way to start where I'm talking about something, I'm having a conversation about something and people are watching, right and it is live. So that would be step one is you've got to start, whether it's Instagram or Facebook or YouTube, even to some degree having a Zoom call, right? That could that probably was step one for a lot of people in the last couple of weeks. Just what is this Zoom thing, right?


Mike Evenson: Yes.


Rudy Ellis: Being able to hop in or use Ring [inaudible 00:09:53] or something where it's this face to face conversation that's happening, in two different locations. So, I would say step one is definitely is start, right. And the step two is just kind of figuring out like what type of message you want to expose or provide to your audience. And then also what platform makes the most sense for them to be able to pick up on that message. You know, maybe depending from an art standpoint, Facebook could you know, three, 4 billion, however many people are on Facebook. That may make sense for your type of demographic and doing a live, talking about, the theater, the arts, the programs. Incorporating a director or someone that's a part of the show, giving a different perspective that you probably couldn't do otherwise or normally wouldn't not do just because the opportunity wasn't present right. That's where I think, that's where one of the benefits of having live video, is that behind the scenes, right?

There's being able to give a different vantage point or perspective that when you go to a show and you watch it, you are sitting there in the theater, that's one perspective. But think about all the different things that are going on behind the scenes that you may even question or wonder about, but you can now provide that lens into that scenario.

So, really taking an approach to figure out what type of content we want to create, what type of content could be engaging or interesting. Because what you do on as a show, right? From an art standpoint may not make the most sense from an engagement standpoint because that is the benefit of live, right? It's being able to have a conversation like you and I, going back and forth. You asked the question and so forth. Giving that kind of interaction where watching the show maybe just kind of one way. So, step one is start, step two is really think about how you want to kind of craft the message. And step three would be a technology, right? There are so many different things that you could do, whether you're using a Zoom and you're streaming it to social, or you're bringing in and doing a full production with graphics and overlay and tweet messages, right? Definitely all these things that you can do, but with anything, you have to crawl, you have to walk and then run. So, start off with crawling, right. Get, pick up your phone and go live.


Mike Evenson: Absolutely, and I think that's great advice and it's been really good to see these live event organizations forced to find new and engaging ways to produce and deliver content and going live and using the platforms that are readily available to them that are in heavy use by consumers. But getting to that third step and figuring out technology. I mean if I know anything about live event organizations is, they love high quality productions.


Rudy Ellis: Sure.


Mike Evenson: Any theater you go to, any concert, any game, the production quality is always very, very high. And so, I know that they're starting to think about what is it that we can do to kind of emulate that great experience that we were able to provide in our venue. How can we translate and take that to the home? And so that’s where the Zooms and the Instagrams kind of, you know, they're just not built, they're not designed to be able to create that kind of world. So, tell us about Switchboard Live, I guess, and kind of where that came from and kind of what providers and technology players like you can give to organizations who want to create a very high-fidelity experience.


Rudy Ellis: Yes, no that's a good question. One thing that kind of just, I thought about as you were chatting is when you talk about like high production value is if there's archive content right. You know that has happened at that venue, that's great content that you could go back and builds a series or some type of show or something while we're in this kind of flux and flux kind of state. And like one, it's probably going to be high quality because it happened at your venue. Great lighting, great sound and two you're filling a void, right? You're filling a void for what people are probably missing out on right now because they can't do that. It's great to be able to experience it from a different perspective, being able to watch it on YouTube, on their big screen TV right.

You know, in the home versus, wherever else they're trying to watch it. So, I definitely think leveraging content that you have from the past can be a great way to start off with some great quality content. And then for us with Switchboard is we make it really easy for you to be able to take that content and put it where people are watching, right? So, think about, again, YouTube and Facebook and maybe LinkedIn, right? Maybe there's a producer series or there's a technical director series that’s talking about a show that happened, in the past where now you're bringing in a person that's watching it and answering questions. It's just a different way to get fans and enthusiasts about whatever the theater and art show is, to be able to ask questions and participate in an event.

And so, we make it really easy for that content to coexist simultaneously on all socials. And then the benefit of doing that is for discoverability, it's for searchability. So that if someone is looking up a show or topic, if you're putting in Greek tags and titling and description, that stuff will get picked up especially on YouTube being that it's the second largest search engine behind Google. So, imagine if you do have all your shows and whatnot on YouTube, and it's organized in such a manner and people are searching for it and they discover your great quality content. And inside of the description you have, Hey, you want to learn more? Or Hey, you want to purchase next seasons, pack of shows, click here.

So now you can have attribution and an understand that someone watched this event, they click the link, and then they went and made a purchase, right? That right there is what every business wants, is being able to market their brand or their content and then have someone transact on that right? I think that's key and being able to do that is made possible with Switchboard.


Mike Evenson: The interesting thing about I think where this is headed is just this shift from hyper-local to opening up audience opportunities everywhere. And when you think about that small 300 seat venue in Berkeley, California that all of a sudden, was focused on a five-mile radius around their venue and attracting as many people as they can. What you just described is now opening them up to billions of people, that they could be engaging with. And that's exciting and probably a bit daunting for some of these organizations who might not be used to doing it. And so, again, going back to the, that crawl aspect just to get started. And you never know what's going to click, you never know what's going to hit.

And on the monetization strategy, I think it's important to think about the fact that not everything should be designed to monetize. You know, just like a marketing campaign or anything else, it's like not everything is designed to close. So, you make sure that you're building content and creating strategies that bring those people into your tent. And then you can figure out kind of how to monetize them. So, I think it's really interesting to think about traditionally, you know, I'm in one venue, I have people coming to the show that night or coming to the concert. And it's like, that's my engagement opportunity. But I think what I'm hearing you say is just trying to create a physical analogy. It's like putting a show on and in one theater, but it's actually available across a hundred theaters at one time. And that's something that your technology can do, is spread that live stream across multiple channels.


Rudy Ellis: Yes, think about like a good scenario would be and forgive my ignorance with regards to like the theater and so forth. But like, let's just say there is a popular show, and there are fans or ambassadors or enthusiasts right, that are, maybe they're creating their own content on a daily, weekly some basis about this show that's been touring or going throughout the country. Imagine being able to have an exclusive, like live activation where maybe it is a producer or one of the actors or actresses, be able to stream a fireside chat, right? And traditionally you would stream it to maybe the show's page or their theater's page just to kind of like you say, close that loop. But think about being able to tap into the audiences of those fans or [inaudible 00:19:52] enthusiasts. And collectively, they could have 10, 20, 30, 50,100,000 subscribers, right?

Now you've put your content right in the hands of an audience. That one, they already have an affinity to the type of content and producing. Two, they're probably going to do something whatever the call to action is, right? You know, sign up, click here to learn more, or what have you, because they're super, super engaged. And three, you're delivering it in the same manner that you normally would if you were just streaming to one of the platforms, right? And so that's how we think about like really leveraging live video is like, bring the audience closer, right? Let's find those targeted niche audiences and get your content in front of them. And that's how I think from a marketing activation standpoint, to your point, right? You're not necessarily having to put this behind a paywall, right? You're bringing your content to a much more targeted transactional audience that they're going to do something right, whoever, whatever that call to action is.

And for you, the opportunity is just been that much shorter, is that much easier to execute on because you're not having to go out and find these audiences. Here, you're empowering them, you are letting them opt in to say, Hey, I want to be a part of that. I want to promote. I want to let my subscribers learn that you know X producer's going to be doing a live stream in two weeks and come join, come listen, because we're excited about this subject, right? And so, I've seen it like done traditionally, like now we're starting to figure out how can you make that happen with the live video on various multiple destinations and platforms.


Mike Evenson: Yes I love that, I mean, when you think about the traditional outcome of an influencer for live events would be or live event orgs would be you know, Hey, sell tickets on behalf of us or get them to donate. And the reality is those are tough sells, both of those, pulling people out of their house, getting them off the couch and going to an event is, that's the challenge, this whole industry faces. But also get someone to, to donate philanthropically to an organization.  And I think what you're calling out is interesting in that especially when you consider the crawl, walk, run and the longer play is tapping into these influencers and getting them to promote your brand. It really is, it shows that during this period of time it might not be about getting into live streaming to regenerate near term revenue. It really might be more about let's get into live streaming and going live, so we can grow our audience and then figure out what the [inaudible 00:22:47] opportunities are going to be.


Rudy Ellis: Totally agree with you on that, man. That's where you know there's different avenues where you're, I've seen companies tried to insert ads or a pre-roll or mid-roll and do those things, or whatever you can do around their player, like real estate around the player or put it behind a paywall. I mean, I think that the way you make it easy, in a way you get your brand in a way you make it accessible and discoverable is connecting with the audience that have an affinity to the type of content you're producing. Now, can you, do you have to go and find those? Yes, but there are ways to do that right, there's definitely influencer agencies. There's definitely marketing initiatives where, Hey, we're doing this event, sign up to be the first 10 channels to host it live on your channel, right? Like, how cool could that be where I'm getting the official content from Band A or Show B and so forth.

So, and then once you have them, you have them essentially for a great period of time, whether it's life or what have you. Right, they're definitely going to want to go and tell the next person about this event. And that's how the word travels, that's how you create like a viral effect around live video, right. It's the only way is by tapping into these micro networks that have these mini brand ambassadors that are raving fans for whatever type of content you're producing or whatever show you're putting on.


Mike Evenson: So, for organizations that are kind of looking at this for the first time. Maybe they've dabbled in Instagram live or anything like that, who see it as intimidating. And we've seen, we've actually had some chats in our Slack channels where people are kind of looking at these different terms, and streaming, transcoding, trans rate, encoding, by trade, latency, CDN. I mean, should an organization worry about the technical part of this, or should they just get crawling, get walking, and knowing that there are technical partners out there that can really help them through these things. A lot of them won't have a proficiency in live streaming. So, what are your, what is your advice to an organization who kind of looks at it and says, man. I don't have, I certainly don't have the team. I don't have the talent or the technical aptitude in and around this right now. I'm not even going to get started. What would you say to that?


Rudy Ellis: Yes, I think that's with anything right, that initial apprehension to get started. I would want, I would say those terms and those definitions, I meant they're there obviously to talk about some of the technical terms and definitions and don't get inundated or discouraged, because there are partners out there, right. There are streaming services teams and production teams that honestly, they're now incorporating this as a suite of service, right? It used to just be the AV guy or the videographer, but now they have to incorporate live video and live streaming as a part of their offering. Even some agencies are doing that now. So, I wouldn't get too concerned with the technical definitions like latency and CDNs and so forth.

The first thing is kind of really paint the picture of what you want to, what your objective is, right? So, Hey, we would like to do a weekly podcast live show, and we're going to talk about these subjects. Maybe we're going to do it for six weeks okay? So that's step one is at least identify what the goal is. Step two is, okay, where is our audience? Is it YouTube? Is it Facebook? Is it Twitch? Is it, like is it Mixer and all these different platforms? Where's my audience? Is its multiple ones at the same time right? Really figure out what makes the most sense.

And then the third thing is, is it going to be live content? Meaning I'm going to have someone or we're going to do this step one right now, we're going to stream it live? Or are we going to start off with like archival or are we going to maybe record the show, right? Recorded the show ahead of time, put the pre-roll pre, put the packaging together, have a little bit more control over the look and feel to create this high-quality show.

But stream it live, meaning that is your way to premiere it, that is delivery to the audience. So when your subscribers get that notification that this theater's live, they're going to tune in versus it just being on YouTube and your marketing team or your email newsletter is say, Hey, go here and watch this video because we just upload it right. It's just leveraging different technologies and tools and tricks to be able to work the algorithms and work the notification systems to get people to look at your content. Because it's so much stuff out there, right? How do you get your content through the noise it's by using live as a delivery mechanism and I think you're going to see more and more companies and shows do that, right?

Think about, I don't know if you saw the other, was its last night I think I may have watched on television, on CBS. They were doing a show where it was different artists at home right. It was like country music awards was supposed to be last night, and so different artists recorded them doing the set, and then I guess that was sent back and then they put it all together. But now they're all watching them participate in something they did the night before. And so, the cool thing is, now they're a part of it. They can tweet, they can ask questions, they can engage with people watching them sing a song or play the piano or what have you.

That same approach can happen with any type of an artist that's starting off. Where you're putting content together, you're streaming it live, and you're sitting in the chat room and you're answering questions like, Hey, this is something we want to see. And you can be a part of that conversation. And so yes I mean, I could talk days and days, you can tell I get excited about it, but you definitely have to kind of just put it on paper, think about what your end goal is. And then lastly, how are you going to measure the success right. What is your call to action? Are you going to send people to sign up for something or watch here or download this PDF or what have you. But just make sure that you're closing the loop by figuring out where you want them to go or do if that matters. So, yes, I mean, I think it's definitely doable, just got to start for sure. Back to my earlier point, you got to start.


Mike Evenson: Absolutely, no I agree with you. I think that you touched on a nuance there, but I think it's a really important one and that is that live can mean different things to different people.


Rudy Ellis: Right.


Mike Evenson: And I think not everything needs to necessarily be broadcast live as much as it is. You have a plan for live interaction and engagement around content. And so, the act of going live with on demand, if you will, prerecorded or on demand video can create a totally different engagement experience.


Rudy Ellis: Huge.


Mike Evenson:  As opposed to just having the content be live. So, I think that's a really interesting way to look at it. And there's room for both of those models in the live streaming world. And everyone knows we got plenty of time, we're always looking for something new to watch and to engage with. Well it's a challenging time for the live events industry. You know I think, and we've talked about it on this podcast quite a bit. A lot of innovation and change is going to come from this time. And it'll be fascinating to see how your business and your part of the industry evolves, how our part of the industry evolves. What are some things that you feel like are going to look different a year from now than kind of where we are today? Just based on the last few weeks and the amount of inbound requests that you've gotten from, different types of organizations.


Rudy Ellis: That's a great question. I definitely, I firmly believe I'm bullish on live in some form of fashion, will be part of the new norm, right? So, when you start thinking about doing an activation from a marketing perspective, it won't be like, Oh, should we live stream this? It's like, okay, so how are we handling the live component, right? Like that's going to be more and a thought process. I definitely think businesses are going to leverage using live as ways to communicate to the home, right? So now everyone is home, so now you're forced to do business, you know with the understanding that someone may have a kid in a background or may have someone running around and so forth.

So being able to make these informational sessions or topics or what have you, done at certain time right. You know, like that whole traditional nine to five, and then you have your commute and then you're coming home and its family time or dinner time. And so, but I think you're going to start seeing live events that are going to be probably around that primetime hour, right? Because that's when they can probably capture, and people have. Grown accustomed to watching something at sort of a period of time. So that's definitely going to be interesting, and then lastly, being able to have kind of conversations in a much easier fashion for folks that aren't obviously in the same room right.

You know, we're now trying to stay in the know and have these dialogues. And there's great platforms out there, but I think you're going to see a couple more solutions and tools that are just going to make it that much easier to have like FaceTime with Google Duo meet Zoom. And like, it's going to really, you're going to really start seeing more live platforms just to make it that much more easier to stay in contact and in touch with your loved ones or family members as well.

And so for us, our mission is still the same and we're going to focus on how can you as a brand and content creator, publisher, whatever it is, reach the audience you want to reach and get your content in front of them on the platforms and solutions that they're already watching them on.

[00:33: 56]

Mike Evenson: If you're new to streaming or want to learn anything more, please go to Rudy's site - Switchboard Live and learn. They've got a wealth of information, a library of knowledge there for people that are just getting started. Rudy, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to walk us through kind of the crawl, walk, run approach to getting started with live streaming. And really excited to hear how well your business is doing. And thanks again for coming on.


Rudy Ellis: Mike, thanks for having me and let's do it again in a year and we'll do a recap, see how it is a year from now.


Mike Evenson: Absolutely. Thank you everyone for joining Unobstructed today. Again, as you're navigating through this time period, this is a topic that has come up significantly and consistently and the thing that we heard from Rudy around kind of the crawl, walk, run approach and just getting started and finding out, what message you want to deliver. Looking at the technology available to you, tapping into influence areas and finding ways to get your content promoted. And then looking at kind of how you want to treat live and what you want to get out of going live and creating this video. All really good points, it was a fascinating conversation. Looking forward to seeing how streaming evolves in the live events industry. With that, I will say goodbye and sign off and I'll speak to you soon. Thanks for joining.


Announcer: Thanks for listening to Unobstructed your view on the live events industry. Subscribe today wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.

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