In August of 1981, a fledgling cable TV channel launched that forever changed music, television, advertising, marketing, and pop culture. The format was pretty simple: play popular videos around the clock that are introduced and commented on by live hosts and fill around the edges with original programming. Now, 32 years after MTV's arrival, the focus is on social, not music videos, and another revolution is underway that may completely redefine how we think about, consume, and interact with live and prerecorded visual content-courtesy of HuffPost Live (HPL).
HPL debuted in August 2012, introducing a novel kind of live streaming network that uses as its real-time script some of the best articles, editors, and contributors from The Huffington Post. Twelve hours of original program is streamed live by HPL Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. EST, with recorded highlights playing overnights and weekends.
The site levels the playing field between on-screen hosts and guests and offscreen visitors, enabling commenters in the community to sound off on relevant and topical issues of interest; now, any fan with a webcam can participate in broadcasted conversations about the day's hot news and trending stories.
Engagement among users has been strong. Consider that the average HPL user spends 21 minutes viewing video: four times longer than the industry average. Those are the kinds of numbers that have businesses across the globe sitting up, taking notice, and recognizing HPL as a potential paradigm shifter for social video.
Setting a New Standard for Social Video
Many industry insiders admire HPL's webcasting approach for how it differs from more traditional news formats. In the past, commentary has been a supportive element rather than central to the news experience, and viewers were almost never featured onscreen.
"By putting the community front and center, HuffPost Live talks with users, not at them," says Tim McDonald, community manager for HPL, which broadcasts from studios in Los Angeles and New York and has a satellite studio in Washington, D.C. "Our model gives anyone with a smart
phone, tablet or webcam the chance to instantly join on as an on-air guest. By incorporating user comments, tweets, and videos into the conversation, the community actually becomes part of the conversation."
Indeed, user engagement has entered a whole new stratosphere with the emergence of HPL.
"Having the ability to live stream original content five days a week is a great way to engage an audience," says Mary Anne Been, owner and editor-in-chief of Jetset Extra, a Burbank, Calif.-based travel blog. "Offering your audience original news and entertainment is a giant step away from traditional sources that provide these things."
Jon Cantin, founder of CNCKing.com, a site dedicated to computer numerical control projects, says HPL serves as a new kind of talk show, where distractions are a requirement for the viewers and the social aspect is to try to turn what's a typically passive activity into an active one. "I think the model of 12 hours a day with highlights nights and weekends is a smart approach. After a few months, you have more than enough content to run unique and not repetitive storylines like the big broadcasters, and for a fraction of the costs and overhead."