Chapter 2: A Co-Host Joins the Team
Having a co-host is perhaps the best thing that happened to our live show and video production. Suddenly, I had someone to talk to and engage with in-studio throughout our presentation. While the show was almost always interview based in the beginning, having a second person in the studio made a huge difference in our production quality. It was easy to see that our live show viewership was growing significantly. Since I was still handling all of the video switching, Tess was able to focus on the chatroom and interject with questions from the audience. Tess’s segment on Social Media would become a centerpiece of the show over time. Tess would highlight customer success stories and popular comments from Instagram or Facebook that promoted positive engagement with our viewers.
This was the real start of our online community. It was Tess’s idea to make a bigger deal about what was going on with our Facebook and Instagram accounts. In turn, viewers became more active both during the show and after on social media. This was also the birth of our Facebook User groups which are still alive and well today. I will go into more detail about the value of Facebook Groups in a future chapter. I would encourage anyone interested in StreamGeeks to join our group and see the unique interactions going on.
Needless to say we were starting to move in the right direction. Slowly I was seeing the potential of creating television quality content from our companies conference room. We would take over the conference room all day on Fridays and storm out of the room like rock stars after a successful show. The viewership statistics were very encouraging. In just one hour, we would accumulate days worth of face time with viewers around the world. I should mention that before we started our live segment we used to host weekly webinars. These webinars always had poor attendance and the production quality wasn’t worth rewatching on-demand. We found that eliminating the barrier of entry that webinar registrations and downloads required made our viewership number 10X. Today we are getting fifty times as many viewers as our old webinar platform.
As the show progressed, we would start preparations earlier and play pump-up music before each broadcast. I really think that playing pump up music before your live broadcasts can increase the talent’s on screen confidence. When you hit that “go live” button, Tess and I would take a deep breath and jump into our agenda. If our guest was interesting and our questions were engaging, viewers would stay for the entire hour long broadcast.
As time went on, we slowly moved away from the green screen and virtual set layout. Ultimately, I would join Tess in our blue brick set which was slowly accumulating new items such as the “On Air” light and a new behind the scenes camera. I realized that we could use multiple cameras in a way that could not be done in the virtual set. We started to add more and more cameras to our setup in order to capture the attention of our audience in different ways. We added an over the shoulder style camera for myself and a ceiling camera for overhead views. We even set up a close up camera with a wide angle lens for Tess to deliver her Social Media segments. We also installed a tally-light system which provided red lights on the top of each camera. These lights would sync up with our video production software to let us know which camera to look at. Since I was still the solo producer of the show, I had two options. I could either control the entire broadcast looking up and down from a computer screen in front of me or I could have the software set to run on a playlist. A playlist can cycle through our show automatically. During some shows we would have the entire presentation planned out in a playlist. The playlist setup would determine how much time it would take in between camera transitions and other segments in a list automatically. I thought this was pretty high tech at the time.
The video production was really starting to get better and our audience was starting to take notice. We would get offers from other companies to send us free gear just to have their products reviewed on our YouTube channel. We were booking out guests to join our show months in advance and we were always adding new live streaming techniques to the show. One cool addition to the show, was displaying live comments from YouTube and Facebook at the same time on the screen. We did this with a custom API we created. Today it’s so much easier with the tools that are available in most production software.
Around this time, many of our audience members would give us detailed advice on how we could improve our show. Sometimes these critique comments would come across a little odd because we were so happy with the quality of our video production. In the midst of our live production, it almost sounded insulting when an audience member would say that we needed to add more lights or that the audio for our far end guest needed a compressor. Many of these early comments were ignored but I realized over time that our audience was giving us real-time advice we could use to improve our next live video production. In response, we started to extend the length of the pre-show and check in with our regular viewers. The process was like live streaming boot camp. We would often tweak some part of our show every week. The changes often came right down to the wire while the live countdown timer was ticking down to the show start. If you work well under pressure or deadlines, live streaming may fit your personality well as it did for me.
This was the very beginning of our crowdsourcing knowledge. We didn’t know it yet, but this type of community engagement is the reward for putting yourself out there. The quality of our production today is a direct result of the advice given to us by our audience over the past three years. But before I get into the studio we have today, let me tell you a little bit about how we started StreamGeeks.
Chapter 3: Starting the StreamGeeks
Our live streams were starting to gain a lot of traction. Each week we were creating really great content for our business and our viewers. I always felt the desire to get more and more creative. I wanted to push the boundaries of what was possible in live streaming. One day we decided to fly a drone over our company’s solar panels while we interviewed the manufacturer about the panel efficiency. While our audience was almost always entertained, some of our show ideas were a little “off brand” for our company. So we had a meeting with our team and decided we would create a new channel dedicated to the subject of live streaming. We would take just one day out of each week and focus on a more broadly defined live streaming channel. This channel would be able make connections and content with a further reach than our current brands (which were product focused). So we made a deal to keep our main brand “PTZOptics” and its channel completely brand focused. This opened the door for a whole new world of possibilities. Our show was really the basis for ou
r research, development, and crowd-sourced critiquing. This channel would give us a platform to talk about anything we found interesting in the streaming world.
I can’t remember every name we considered but “geek,” “nerd,” “tech,” and “streaming” were all words we kept trying to jam together. We knew that our audience was geeky and we knew that we wanted to focus on the live streaming industry. Eventually, someone mentioned “StreamGeeks” and we all said “YES!” So we bought the website domain and searched around for a WordPress theme that we liked. It’s amazing what a good name will do for a company.
In the beginning, it was supposed to be a simple podcast format show that we live streamed to YouTube and Facebook. A place where we could take a step back and review the past year or two of our own live streaming journey. We wanted to present content in a way that almost anyone could relate to. Our very first episode—which had absolutely no live viewers by the way—was called “Our Ah-Ha moments in live streaming”. Tess and I sat down in-front of our blue brick studio and had the cameras set to cycle as we conversed about easy to digest live streaming topics.
We were quickly able to attract an audience interested in this type of content. Each week, Tess and I would think of a new idea that usually derived from some comment on Facebook or YouTube. This was the very early start of crowdsourcing our content ideas. We had a community just big enough to gather ideas about what people would want to see next.
I still remember getting our first 100 YouTube subscribers. Tess is great at being able to talk about almost any subject and ask thoughtful questions that provoke a larger discussion. Every time we mentioned our new Facebook User Group on the live show, we would have two or three more requests to join. Slowly everything was growing at a steady pace.
So StreamGeeks was started, but it wasn’t quite launched. Over the next couple of months, we brought on a video production expert, named Michael Luttermoser, who would become our producer. In the beginning, Michael would watch our show and see how I was operating vMix. vMix is the video production software we use to transition between multiple cameras and display all of our graphics. Eventually, Michael was able to take over all the video production controls and allow Tess and I the freedom to simply be the on camera talent.
Knowing what it takes to operate the entire live streaming system and be on camera cut my teeth in the industry. In fact, some people said they loved seeing us operate the show on camera, even when we would make a mistake. But I knew, that in order to increase our video production quality overall, a dedicated producer was going to be key.
Things continued to progress. Business was good and our ambitions grew. We were a talented group of guerilla marketers with a budget. We had access to almost any audio visual equipment we could ever need. We could also advertise any of the content we felt was exceptionally powerful and all of this helped us grow our audience on Facebook and YouTube. It was a fun time and we continued to push the boundaries of what was possible.
In April of 2017, we hosted the world’s first “Streaming Awards” dedicated to shows that are available exclusively on social media networks like YouTube or Facebook live. The show had a huge turnout with over 5,000 views in the first hour. The “2017 Streaming Awards Show” as we called it, was perhaps our most ambitious show to date. It was the first time we invited the public to our office. It was an exhilarating feeling to have a real live in-studio audience during the show. The show went off without a hitch and contestants from all around the world were celebrated for their work. We used a very fancy looking award ceremony Adobe After Effects template that took hours to render for each clip. Each video clip was accompanied by a professional voiceover and music. The production quality looked great and some of our in-studio audience even came on the show for interviews. One local school district was nominated for their daily school announcements show. It was a blast!
As we continued to grow it was obvious that we had started something that would outgrow our current office space. Tess and Michael were actually working in hallway cubicle spaces and the transition between a live broadcast and regular office desk work didn’t fit into our creative workflow. So, we would take creativity walks around the business park. We would walk for hours sometimes talking about how the live show could be changed. We would talk about what the next topic could be and how the live viewers were responding to our content. These are still some of my fondest moments from our old office location.
Chapter 4: The New Studio
So long story short, we opened up a new office in downtown West Chester, Pennsylvania. The town is a perfect fit for our small marketing team. Each day I would skateboard through town and it was a thrill. West Chester is full of activity and other small businesses for the StreamGeeks to interact with. We joined the local Chamber of Commerce and hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony that we live streamed to Facebook.
At this point, I could see how the power of live streaming was still foreign to most other businesses in our community. We had roughly 80 people watching our ribbon cutting ceremony online. I made a joke about how we had more live viewers on Facebook than people actually attending the grand opening in person. Listening to the questions local business people had about live streaming and marketing was very eye opening. This was the start of StreamGeeks. The friction between our goals and real world businesses remains the source of our most interesting content.
I was able to convince our boss that the new office would be a showroom for what the live streaming industry could become in the future. We designed the office around the main broadcast studio and included other essential rooms such as post-production and hair/makeup. We wanted to build the studio on a budget that almost any business could afford. But in all honesty, we kept spending more and more money on the studio. Our initial budget was $10,000 for all the furniture, networking equipment and other essentials. We were actually under budget initially but then we hired some painters to spruce up the place. They put up our signature red brick wallpaper and they also put us over budget. We continue to add equipment almost every week and the total studio budget is somewhat of a mystery.
If there is one thing I have learned about video production studios, it’s that they are never finished. My wife, Lauren, played a significant role in designing the new office and our set. We discovered that less is more for set design. We presented potential studio designs to our audience before the move on our live show. We had multiple 3D google sketch-up designs that we would share live on our show. During these shows I was really fishing for good advice from our viewers. These episodes performed extraordinarily well because it was an interesting topic for everyone involved. I spent hours looking at other live streaming studios to determine how everything could be setup. One show that has a great setup is the Twit Network with Leo Laporte. I saw a segment in one of his shows where he has a D-shaped standing height table with an LCD monitor at the end displaying his logo. This set along with countless others became the inspiration for our new studio.
Our set was also designed with a D-Shaped bar height table presentation area. The table has an LCD monitor mounted where the D-Shape meets the wall. This space allows two presenters to easily face the camera. We have ample space for product presentations and convenient camera angles for the production. I really like the standing height desks because it keeps the blood flowing during our broadcast. My wife suggested that we keep the rest of our studio open so that we could change the space up from time to time. This was great advice because we regularly bring in different furniture and green screen materials when needed for specific shows. It’s supposed to be a creative space, so maintaining openness has worked wonders for our setup. We are now able to bring all kinds of furniture in and out of our studio with ease.
Moving into a new office takes time and building out our studio does as well. Somehow we were able to host our regular live shows without skipping a single episode. Since our show was all about live streaming, we made the move-in process part of the live show and we got a great response. Many of our viewers are in the midst of designing a live show or thinking about how they could implement at least some part of our plan in their own studios. We did not miss the chance to document the before and after process of building a live streaming studio, being the young marketing guerrillas that we are. Documenting your business process can become a great inspiration for your viewers. You can search our Facebook User Group and find others in the midst of building their own live streaming studios who drew inspiration from our move-in videos.