Six months in the making, HuffPo Live has launched this morning, seeking to define a new online programming format at the intersection of live-streaming video, news coverage and community involvement. Unlike other news outlets that have primarily relied on re-purposing on-air broadcasts, or on creating online segments featuring their own reporters, HuffPo Live is looking to transform its huge base of active readers/commenters into participants in live-streamed, topical discussions. As a result, HuffPo Live is being positioned as not just a "video network," but more broadly as a "platform for engagement."
Even though there are ten different hosts/producers to guide these discussions, unlike traditional news coverage, HuffPo Live won't have a specific schedule for when they'll appear. Rather, HuffPo Live is going for a more spontaneous online readership model, where visitors surf to and participate in, what interests them. And even though community involvement is key to its mission, HuffPo's reporters, blogger and editors will be making regular appearances in HuffPo Live discussions. Similarly, as I just wrote last week, the Wall Street Journal has been effective at incorporating its journalists into its video efforts.
Integrating its own experts seems pretty important to me, because as democratizing as it sounds to have the community on-air, there are plenty of risks as well. With a live discussion, how do you guard against the spontaneous racist or libelous remark slipping out? Or one that directly offends a sponsor? A HuffPo spokesperson told me that guests are all pre-screened before they go on air, and that sometimes they won't be live, but rather have pre-recorded video clips integrated into the discussion. There will also be a "moderating process in place" but short of cutting someone off mid-sentence, it's not clear exactly how that will work. With 12 hours a day of live programming planned, HuffPo Live is juggling a lot.
Beyond these risks, there are the larger questions of how to ensure compelling discussions when trying to get the community so deeply involved. Commenting sections are often chaotic, undisciplined and repetitive, even with strong moderation. The HuffPo hosts' challenge is going to be integrating guests in a coherent discussion that moves along briskly and meaningfully. That's not a simple task, especially when some participants are remote and possibly experiencing technical delays which can be very distracting to viewers.
The last open question is how monetization will work. At launch, HuffPo Live has Cadillac as its founding partner. The spokesperson said they'll be "integrated into our programming." I'm not sure if that means standard pre, mid and post-rolls, or something deeper. Having product placement or any branding that's too overt will feel awkward given the focus on community.
HuffPo Live is yet another great example of how online video is opening up new opportunities for content providers to experiment with new formats that are more current and less top-down. HuffPo Live is starting with some strong advantages in existing traffic, expert staff and active readership. As connected TVs proliferate it could be a bona fide alternative to cable's talking heads. It will be great fun to see how HuffPo Live unfolds.
Categories: Indie Video