SXSW 2014: Putting The Audience Front And Center

Today at the Austin Convention Center, Roy Sekoff of Huffington Post held a talk entitled “Is Online Video Killing TV?” In short, his answer was that the two forms would converge to form a new heretofore unnamed medium.

He told the story of his stewardship of HuffPost Live and how it has grown and succeeded by taking the learnings from the Huffington Post and applying them to a live video format. The Huffington Post, in its nine year history, has collected over 365 million comments. And 70% of those were responses to other comments. So it became clear that a conversation was going on. Traditional TV news networks with their 24-hours of pundits interspersed with the occasional reading of a tweet didn’t have this kind of feeling to them. HuffPost Live has attempted to bridge the gap.

The UX of the site devotes half the screen to live community comments. It also includes a big red button that offers viewers the opportunity to be an on-air guest. Using Google Hangouts, a viewer can record a short video. A small team of screeners reviews the submissions, and then clears people to join the live programming from their webcams. Since launch 19 months ago, over 17,000 viewers have participated in the programming and the site gets 22 million unique viewers per month.

Part of what makes HuffPost Live so compelling is that it is live and brings viewers into the conversation live. It is effectively the complete opposite experience as binge viewing, which is often a solitary, non-participatory endeavor.

As digital forms of video entertainment continue to erode the dominance of traditional linear TV, this sort of immediate hyper-participatory entertainment seems like a naturally prominent piece of the new landscape that is set to emerge in the coming years.