2019 promises to be a game-changing year for the content production industry.
While various mediums are competing intensely to break new ground and capture wider audience shares, such as VR and augmented reality, there is one unexpected frontrunner that few people saw coming.
Interactive live streaming technology, which allows viewers to engage with video content in real time, reacting to it and influencing the content directly, is not exactly a recent phenomenon. Major sites in China such as Weibo and Baidu have utilised the technology widely since at least 2013, attracting hundreds of millions of viewers who choose to engage with interactive live streams.
In the Asia-Pacific region more generally, interactive live streaming has been not only an integral part of internet culture for several years but also a major source of revenue for both companies and content creators alike.
This new wave of content is finally catching on in the West as well, promising to completely disrupt the digital economy altogether. Here’s why interactive live streaming is the future of content.
The Rise of Interactive Live Streaming
Several factors have contributed to this rise. One of these was the acquisition of interactive live streaming technology by Facebook a couple of years ago, which has allowed people to react to live-stream videos in real-time. Similarly, Instagram and Twitter live videos were quickly fitted out with the same capabilities, especially when market research in 2016 revealed that users were likely to spend up to eight times as long viewing an interactive video than a standard one.
Interactive live streaming’s application for gaming was recognized long before they were applied to other types of video content. A significant early pioneer was the online casino industry, which adopted such technology to allow players to play live blackjack, allowing them to interact with a real-life card dealer via a stream. This approach appealed not only because it is a unique type of gameplay, but also because it improved consumer trust with online casino platforms.
While social media is the most recognizable face of interactive live streaming, it was the gaming industry that actually paved the way. The eSports entertainment industry is widely regarded as being a major force for popularizing interactive live streaming, with the interactive streaming site Twitch being universally accepted as the pioneer, thanks to viral streams such as Twitch Plays Pokémon, which, at its peak, had over 1.1 million active players at a time. Streams of major gaming tournaments are able to rack up tens of millions of views in an incredibly short time period. The billion dollar annual eSports industry encouraged viewers to interact with their live streams from the outset, which has in part fuelled the popularity of the genre.
Since then, the role of interactive live streaming has evolved, with a much more diverse range of outlets and platforms adopting it for their own purposes, commercial or otherwise.
What the Future Holds
There are a few major recent developments that help us predict what the future of interactive live streaming might look like. One of these was the use of interactive live streams to broadcast debates in the 2016 Presidential Elections and the 2018 Midterm Elections in the US, which generated a combined total of over 100 million views.
The emoticon reactions flooding the screens when certain people took to the podium were the subject of intense discussion and have even been used by polling companies and think tanks to help them better understand digital communications in politics. Beyond this, commercial companies such as Nest, a real estate business, have adopted interactive live streaming for house viewings, apparently to great success.
In the gaming realm, Twitch has significantly expanded their operations, recently introducing Twitch Extensions, a platform which allows other online video games to use the same interactive technology, promising to bring it to much wider audiences. It’s clear that what we’re seeing so far is only the beginning of the interactive live streaming revolution.
Companies and creators have taken notice of the ability such technology has to deliver results, in terms of engagement, impressions, customer experience, and cross-promotion. Passive viewing experiences are no longer deemed sufficient by audiences, as further demonstrated by the interactive Netflix TV show Bandersnatch. It’s clear we’ll be seeing a lot more of this in the future.