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Going live!: Why live content is helping media companies reach new demographics

Grass Valley's Neil Maycock takes a look at how live cloud-based production is helping to deliver more than just sport to captivate audiences

Premium live content is extremely valuable, it was reverently missed during the pandemic, but now global sports seem to be migrating back to stadiums and arenas around the world. With flagship events like the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and the Six Nations rugby championship, the live event can be the highlight of a broadcast schedule, pulling in millions of viewers from countries all over the world.

Outside of these world-stage events, another strand of live entertainment content is surging, and it is gathering audiences through non-traditional platforms. And media companies tapping into this new form of entertainment are reaching new demographics.

Programmes such as Strictly Come Dancing, Love Island, and The Masked Singer have become appointment TV for fans that are intrigued with the drama and keen to stick it out to the end and discover who the big winner is. The success of these shows highlights the surge in popularity of the ‘reality’ genre and the wider globalisation of live entertainment content.

Not only does reality TV draw in big amounts of linear views, it has also branched into areas of live ancillary programming that spans over-the-top streaming and social media platforms. These live or ‘as-live’ content spin-off shows can be produced for relatively low-cost, increasingly using cloud production — and then distributed in innovative ways that promote audience engagement through social media and interactive elements such as audience voting.

The ‘reality TV’ genre has been around for decades – with cult classics like Big Brother and Survivor, for example – but, in recent years, there has been an increase in the diversity and reach of these shows. The transformation in how these shows is consumed is that they’re evolving into a multi-device era fuelled by active engagement through social media platforms.

Love is all around 

This growth can be quantified through the success of the UK version of Love Island. Originally launched in 2006, it only generated just over 2 million viewers which was considered to be a failure compared to its reality genre rival Big Brother. However, by 2018, Love Island had reached a peak audience of 3.3 million viewers across all devices, according to ITV. It then hit an average audience of 5.9 million for its 2020 series. In 2021, despite a 16-month hiatus, the series returned with an impressive 4 million per episode across all devices. The show’s nine official sponsorship partners included a food delivery brand that was reported to be paying £5 million for the privilege.

Live content paired with social media to amplify the audience’s interaction with the series is a fast-evolving landscape. There is exclusive online content, social media posts of ‘first look’ previews ahead of TV airing, and memes shared via the show’s official social media pages. Moreover, Love Island also has its own app which is the only method to cast votes on the show. A report by Kantar Media on Social TV Ratings also paints a fascinating picture on the role of social media for reality TV. During its 2021 run, #loveisland trended on Twitter nightly, and its official Instagram account boasted 3 million followers and its Facebook page rose to nearly 1.5 million followers with over 1.3 million likes.

As clearly exampled by Love Island, customer engagement drives the success for the show and demonstrates a significant trend for media and entertainment – social media is a powerful tool to be leveraged. The result for Love Island is that, across all media, it can hit a demographic goldmine for advertisers with the bulk of the audience made up of 18- to 29-year-olds.

We are also seeing more and more that visual content is a gift that keeps on giving. There is potential to not just reuse content across multiple media, but also to repurpose it as material for interactive video games, web exclusives, or a hundred other cases within an efficient business model.

Production Remains Steady

Another emerging trend is the use of remote production and cloud-based media technologies to gain the flexibility required in the media and entertainment market. 

In the case of Love Island USA, the 2020 version of the show had to resort to remote footing to meet the Covid social distancing requirements. Though the show was filmed and finished in several Las Vegas hotels, it was also filmed in Los Angeles, with loggers in Australia, technical consultants in the Philippines, and management teams in the UK. The production team used 300 remote editors via HP RGS (Remote Graphics Software) to access up to 1.5Pb of media hosted in Las Vegas via dedicated IP/fibre link to ensure the turnaround of the five-night-a-week show. 

For Love Island USA to air during a global crisis with exceptionally high production quality for two years running is remarkable. 

There are media companies across the world looking at the Love Island model and testing the waters with media offerings that don’t rely on securing rights to the next big sporting event. Love Island has set the scene for the seismic shift happening across the live and near-live space. 

The media market is embracing technical innovation and a broader transformation that is seeing Grass Valley working with partners and customers worldwide to pioneer market-leading advances on cloud and software efficiency. The time is right now for live experimentation with cloud production platforms making it easier, more efficient, and scalable than ever.