“I’d like to dedicate the opening of our new studio to the innovators.
The early tech adopters willing to get their hands dirty. To the tech geeks who understand how technology can transform the world we live in long before the public at large.
From the vloggers on YouTube to the big city broadcasters like QVC on cable television. I’m so happy to be in the middle of this industry at a time when social media and video communications are converging to create opportunities for businesses small and large.
And I’d be remiss not to mention you—our live viewer community on YouTube and Facebook! It’s your engagement with our video content that drives the conversation forward for live streamers around the world.
Let’s open StreamGeeks everybody!”
After about a year of live streaming, making every mistake in the book, I realized that creating live video was starting to become easy for me. The rubber was really starting to hit the road for me creatively. Facebook live had just come out and instead of resisting the latest trending technology, I started simulcasting our show. Simulcasting was a new term in the industry which described streaming media that was sent to multiple destinations at the same time. For the first time, I was able to live stream our show on both YouTube and Facebook. The seas were starting to open and our live show was on a roll.
So a couple times each week, I would live stream to our businesses social media accounts. I made a deal with our boss at the time that these live streams would only take up 10% of my work week. The promise to work half a day per week quickly spiraled into something much more. But this is where the story begins. I quickly realized that my job would become learning about something useful and sharing that knowledge with our audience. The more useful the knowledge I shared, the better it would perform. The more compelling my story and inbound marketing strategy was the more leads I was able to create for our company.
At one point, I was making one video per day because there was so much content that needed to be cataloged and made into video. We decided to divide the week up into a “daily vlog schedule” which was something like: Mondays with Paul, Tech Support Tuesday, Back to Basics, Something New Thursday and the regular Friday Show. I have to say that daily video creation did a lot for our YouTube channel. As long as we had a topic to talk about, we were able to sit down and record a presentation with prepared media. We could have it uploaded to Facebook and/or YouTube as soon as we were finished recording. Since we recorded the whole video live, the real art was managing the video production software controls and talking about the given topic at the same time.
So here I am, sitting at the head of our company’s conference room table, looking into a camera and a projector screen. The projection screen was just above the camera, so I was able to operate the video switcher and deliver my message to the camera at the same time. One video production hack I learned quickly was the power of B-Roll. I would play a pre-recorded video and read from a script that I had printed out in front of me. This was a way of making video creation almost too easy, because all I had to do was prepare some b-roll and read from a script. I would play an intro clip, introduce the topic on camera, roll the b-roll and read my notes. I must have produced 150 videos in this manner and it really jump-started our digital footprint. To this day, I use b-roll video every chance I get.
That conference room and the pull down green screen we had installed are now ancient history. The videos we made generated well over 2 million views and who knows how many leads for our company. But even more importantly, something amazing came from the hustle. I was starting to understand how valuable video could be for our business.
When you start to see the true value of something, you don’t want the process to be too easy. It’s supposed to be hard work and I wanted to challenge myself to do better. To top it off, I was starting to get bogged down with the social media responsibilities. Real people from all around the world were messaging us at a rate that I couldn’t handle by myself. It was becoming a full time job just responding to the YouTube comments and Facebook messages pouring in.
So out of this success came an even greater step forward when we hired Tess Protesto, our Social Media Manager. Tess eventually helped me start StreamGeeks and currently works as my amazing co-host. Tess was a West Chester University graduate, who already knew how to work with Facebook and manage social media. She has a bachelor’s degree in communications and was happy to see our social media accounts with so much activity. Tess was also very interested in our live streaming show and joined the show to host a small segment on our social media each week.
Together we built our first “real studio” in the nook of our office conference room. Her husband who works in the sign business was able to print out a blue brick vinyl sticker for the background.
We spent roughly $1,000 on the set which included shelving, bar stools and a cool white bar height service desk for us to stand behind. We actually still have a video tutorial course that we made throughout the process. This course is available on Udemy.com if you would like to learn more. So we made a plan and documented the studio build process.
We started our studio design ideas on Pinterest. Tess would “pin” design ideas on her “live show” board and we would go back and forth imagining what the set should look like. This real-world experience helped us picture the possibilities of live streaming for business. We learned that positioning camera angles on a set should influence where you hang items like shelves. We also learned that less is more and the focus should be on our presentation. While handpicked items chosen to support your brand are nice, the focus should always be on your content.
At this time, I was still used to sitting in front of my green screen during the live broadcasts. So we continued to use a virtual set and we added a second camera for Tess in front of the new set we built. The virtual set was really professional looking and it actually fooled many of our viewers into thinking we had a city skyline view outside our production studio. I guess it did look as though we were somehow bringing in Tess for our “Social Media Update” from a remote location in downtown New York. Let’s not forget that this was the very first year that Facebook Live streaming was available. Most people on the platform had no idea what type of content would be available. Our video quality was so much better than the average cell phone streamer, I guess there was just magic in the air.
Looking back at all our broadcasts, I have to say that the quality still surprises me. We were able to bring in live callers from around the world and we took our show seriously. At this time many people said you only needed to live stream in 1280x720p resolution. I didn’t listen and I always used Full HD 1080p quality. Looking back I’m so glad our archives video is in Full HD quality.
We would stick to a very professional agenda providing our guests a ten-minute time slot to answer questions with a sixty second countdown timer for each question. I was trying very hard to respect the time of our viewers and keep us on tight schedule. I designed the visual agenda display based off of a popular ESPN show. We would prepare 8 custom PNG files for each show that would play with a “ding” every time we moved on to the next subject. I know our audience respected the television style feel we were going for.
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.