Whenever I watch or participate in a live stream, I’m always curious about who is watching or listening, specifically the numbers. I tuned in for some of Spencer’s new gig the other day and I saw that he had about thousand people listening. When I was on with Josh Neal we had about one hundred people. Spencer is obviously a bigger name and surely draws lots of of enemies to anything he does, in addition to supporters. Still, these are small numbers, compared to what we think happens with television and radio.
Now, in fairness, local radio often has just a few thousand people listening at any one time and some small TV channels have such small audiences they round to zero. There’s also the fact that live streams are a new and different medium. It’s like watching the rehearsal, rather than the finished product, but you can interact with the performers. That and you can watch it anytime, because live streams are recorded. If you look at the views of these things, 90% of the audience is for the recorded version, not the live feed.
The newness of live streams can be seen in the radio programs that have started putting their content on-line. Lots of talk radio people have set up cameras in their studio to simulcast their shows over Facebook or YouTube. They also provide a feed to services like iHeart and TuneIn. I listen to the legendary Howie Carr off YouTube, as he is in Boston and I’m in Lagos. I’ve never seen the viewer count on his YouTube feed exceed a hundred. Most of the time, it is below 50, yet he is the #14 talk radio guy in America.
Anyway, it got me thinking about the new audience for the new media. One thing I’ve learned after a year of doing a podcast is there is little overlap between my writing and my spoken word material. In fact, I have been approached by people at secret handshake meetings who only listen and have never bothered to read my blog. Lots of readers have told me they have no interest in the podcast, but they would read a transcript. John Derbyshire has been doing transcripts for years now, because most prefer it.
My guess is the audience for live streams is a completely different animal than the audience for writing and podcasting. There is a sense of urgency to the live stream, in that watching one from a year ago feels like reading an old newspaper. Most live streams are about current topics. Podcasts are often topical, but necessarily so. The people doing history and philosophy can expect an audience long after they have published their shows. That does not seem to be the case with the live stream.
A few weeks ago I was made aware of the fact a very famous person reads this blog on occasion. They don’t read regularly because they think I’m too wordy. That person wanted to know where I was on social media, because that person prefers Twitter over longer written material. This was a bit of a revelation, but it made perfect sense. While there is overlap between the audience for longer material and the audience for social media, there are many who do one but not the other. Live stream is the social media of video.
A few years ago I predicted Twitter’s problems. A large scale public platform is either open to everyone or it allows for self-segregation. Any attempt to moderate an open platform fails and this was known long before Twitter of Facebook. UseNet and message boards were the first social media and they learned that you either have segregation or you have the Wild West. Any effort to tone police or regulate blasphemy ends in disaster. The reason is the cost of regulation eventually outweighs the benefit.
What’s happening in social media is segregation, as people retreat to their own kind. The dissidents are the first to start building their own, but it will spread everywhere. Your social media platform will be your tribe. That or platforms like Facebook will simply acquiesce to reality. This has happened to some extent as there are private Facebook groups populated by alt-right people. Something similar will have to happen with Twitter or it will collapse under the weight of its own stupidity.
This brings me back to live streams and video is general. The live stream is a response to YouTube censorship. The hosts make sure to stay within the rules and they have the option to not post the recorded show if it could cause problems. The thing is though, even the most berserk member of the volunteer morality police is not sitting through three hours of Spencer talking about himself to find some blasphemy. The use of guarded language and the format allow for some self-segregation within the YouTube platform.
One final thought on all this. I mentioned that I’m not a very good live stream guest. Some people with small brow ridges will accuse me of false modesty, but I think there is a skill at being a host and a guest. This has always been true. A good host features the guest and keeps the guest from getting lost in the sound of his own voice. On the other hand, good guests have answers like a woman’s bathing suit. They are big enough to cover the material, but small enough to keep it interesting. They keep the show moving.
With these new formats, developing new skills to exploit the format is something we see all over now. The cut and paste bloggers, for example, have mostly faded away, as that has been displaced by social media. Those pithy comments are easily done on Facebook and Twitter. Content driven bloggers like J’Onquarious and Heartiste are the future of the format. The group blog is the new magazine and the solo blog is the new pamphleteer. Similar skills, but more interactive and responsive.
On the video side, that’s where things will be more interesting, as the format has no analog to the analog age. Live streams are not like TV. YouTube channels are not like a cable channel. PewDiePie is not Howard Stern. As Paul Ramsey talked about in his chat with Millennial Woes the other day, the internet video format continues to evolve as people try to figure out how to use it. Look at old videos of a guy like Molyneux and they are nothing like what he is doing today, because he evolved with the format.
That also means the audience will change too. Fifty years ago, movie stars never did television, other than chat shows to promote themselves. That may be how things unfold with video, at least initially. The live stream guys will be a special skill, while the recorded people, with high production values, will appeal to a different audience. Bloggers and writers that can be good guests will use appearances to promote their work. Otherwise, like the difference between book readers and TV watchers, there will be little overlap.