The summer of 2012 was about the Olympics. In the UK, the BBC took a huge stride in delivering multi platform live content experiences.  For me, this was without doubt a turning point in the liberation of online video as we´ve come to know it. The recent Red Bull Stratos event was a without doubt one of the most entertaining live online video experiences the world has ever seen. But as online video evolves, has the industry done enough to show off it´s true colours ?

In the last week, since our mate Felix jumped out of a space ship 23 miles up in the sky, there has been an influx of articles/blogs describing the feat & divulging an array of social media data insights. The biggest stat that has been reported is that the YouTube stream delivered 8million viewers, a world record. Now, i´ve seen this figure described by YouTube,  News outlets, and blogs in many different guises.

I´ve seen it described as :

  • Streams
  • Viewers
  • Eye-balls

And this is what prompted me to write this post. There were some well-respected marketing journals talking about ´viewers´and ´eyeballs´, but whilst their articles are insightful i think they´ve missed the bigger picture that the Red Bull Stratos event has exposed here.

TV viewing, and in particular live sports, is commonly a co-viewer / communal experience by the very location and static nature of the screen. Computer viewing is commonly an isolated / convenient experience, by the very design of the device and conditions. We measure TV broadcast by viewers not screens (streams), so why are we measuring an internet enabled screen with anarchic panel based method ? (When discussing TV here, i´m referring to it in its traditional sense. I do not believe that audience behavior, and technology, has evolved enough yet to consider a TV´s characteristics in the same capability conditions as a Computer/Desktop/mobile screen)

As i mentioned earlier, online video is traditionally an isolated experience between the screen and the user (singular / 1 to 1). The communal characteristic we identified with the TV, is seen in online video through social sharing. Online video, and the web, collapses the temporal restrictions of the TV and we watch at our convenience.  The most communal TV experiences are without doubt ´Live´. The very essence of ´Live´generates excitement & unpredictability amongst us humans. It´s these powerful traits that connect audiences to a similar mental ´state´,around the world , at any one time. So, we agree, these ´live´ moments gravitate audiences like no other, and this is exemplified through Super Bowl´s , World Cup Finals &, of course now, Red Bull Stratos.

The industry is striving for cross-platform video measurement, and Nielsen  / Bluefin Labs are really making strides to disentangle this area, but i still find it remarkable that we are still applying very basic measurement to an ´event´that was so clearly a defining moment, if not a breakthrough, in the evolution of the ´online video ´. I was sat in a room with four people crowded around my laptop, and i´ve seen countless pictures on Twitter that suggest the same thing was happening all around the world. Red Bull Stratos was the moment online video  exploded from it´s clutches and gave the TV stations something to worry about. But why did we measure it using basic method ?

Let´s try give this ´moment´some context.

The 2012 US SuperBowl TV broadcast was measured as achieving 111.3 million viewers, not screens. The Red Bull Stratos was measured as achieving 8million screens, not viewers. Red Bull Stratos was ´reported´as acheiving 8 million viewers, but anyone will no this measurement is not telling the real story here.

For the purposes of now, i´m going to say stick my oar out and say that this YouTube live video stream reached an audience in excess of 25 million viewers. I first got to this number using a freq of 3.5 based on the average number of people i believe would crowd around a small computer screen. But then i thought i should look at the total Twitter mentions to see if i could draw any correlation surrounding engagement to justify my considered estimate. There are a few sources on what is believed to be the total mentions on that famous day, and they sit between 2.6million & 3.2million depending on what mentions you want to align to the even. For the purposes of this analysis, I´ll use 3million.

A simple % calculation later (Twitter mentions (3mill) / Viewers (8mill) x 100) and we get to a viewer engagement rate for Red Bull Stratos Live Stream of 38%. That´s pretty nuts, and seemed a little high so i decided to run the same test against the 2012 US Superbowl. Again, a simple calculation (Twitter mentions (13.7mill) / Viewers (111.3mill) x 100 ) and we get to a viewer engagement rate of 12.3%.  So what, you may be asking ?

Let´s go back to the finger in the air frequency calculation (3.5) that i estimated earlier for Red Bull Stratos. If we normalise the Red Bull Stratos data again based on this inflated viewer number we get something that potentially aligns. So, (Twitter mentions (3mill) / Inflated ´Viewers´based on a 3.5 freq (25mill) x 100 ) and we get a Red Bull Stratos viewer engagement rate of 12%.

Crude i know, but the two ´live events´ follow an almost exact correlation.

Two sources of data are not enough, so I went to another recent ´Live´event that i thought could follow similar conditions for gravitating audiences through video and social. Recently On October 22nd , we witnessed the Final US Presidential Debate that sparked millions of conversations and drew a huge audience to the same mental ´state´/ moment, and most importantly ´Live´

So, again, let´s follow the same calculation acquired for this event: (Twitter mentions (6.5m)  / Viewers (59.2m) x 100) and we get to a viewer engagement rate of 11%.

The above result could either be seen as a common Twitter engagement rate to a live event, or a way to use twitter engagement as a way to forecast an audience. I do feel, however, that I may be contradicting myself through the data at the same time. By that i mean, the agenda of this post is to question the validity of existing TV measurement & explore new truths for online, yet i’ve used the very measurement to verify a forecast i had for the Red Bull Stratos true viewer number.

When i started writing this post i had not intention of doing any mathematics, but as i started to write down some of these numbers i found scattered around the web something started to transpire. As someone who has worked on econometric projects, i know that three data points is not enough to base any robust conclusion. However, there is something in this and i hope this very basic analysis prompts someone to give this defining moment for online video the respect it deserves. This analysis is crude & quick, i know, but i think it demonstrates a few interesting correlations that should hopefully prompt the industry to act now in defining a new form of viewer measurement. We talk about panels to measure TV, and right now Twitter is offering a panel that is larger and more dynamic than anything we have seen before. Yes, it may not be diverse enough to give us a true demographic sample, but i truly believe there is something in this, somewhere.

Twitter mentions is not enough,but if it does align with existing measurement methods perhaps a further deep analysis of the entire social media behaviour will uncover additional ‘viewers’ beyond the capability we currently find ourselves. If we blend digital surveys (in the spirit of the panel) online, with a social media measurement tool we may be moving forward.

A brand has distributed their content to an audience to the same scale that was traditionally the responsibility of the TV broadcaster. YouTube has liberated content distribution and it´s now down to them to demonstrate it´s true value through ground-breaking research that we know Google are very good at. I want to make it abundantly clear that i do not believe i have found the answer, but i do believe i have found enough insight to stimulate further the existing industry challenge.

Learn from the old way TV was measured, and innovate.

Re-Define what TV engagement is, and becomes.

Understand that the future, and measured value, of video/ content screen distribution must never be the same.

Red Bull moved on from the old advertising model, and innovated. Look at them now. So must the anarchic methods our industry employs.

Red Bull, you did more than jump from outta space. You set video free.


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