Coronavirus got you housebound? Here’s how Splice quickly pulled together an online streaming event – Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard


If you’re reading this, you’re probably trying to figure out how to do your first online event. We decided to do Splice Low-Res because (1) we needed to learn how to do this, as COVID-19 leads us deeper online, and (2) we wanted to see how the media startup community was holding up.

We haven’t figured it all out — but this is what we’ve learned so far. Let us know where you think we could have done better.

Know what you need

Start with your use cases. It’s not about the technology — that comes once you’ve decided what’s important for your event. (That’s why you’ll only find the stuff about tech at the bottom of this post.)

There wasn’t a single platform that could do everything we needed end-to-end — not in the way we wanted, at least. So break it down so you’re thinking clearly about what you need, what you want, and what you can do without.

We’re community-focused, so capturing email registrations and making this content available widely are essential for us.

Registrations are a success metric for us. It’s not the sheer number — we wanted to know that we were indeed reaching specific people in the community. If we’re not reaching the kind of people we’re trying to serve, what’s the point? The idea is to be relevant. We also want to be able to do these events regularly, so keeping people in the loop through email is key.

Jobs to be done

Essential

  1. Front-end site: For brand building, for a single destination, and for a proof-of-concept for sponsors. It should be templatized to reuse for future events.
  2. Registrations: To let us register people, collect email addresses for future events, and produce an attendee snapshot for sponsors.
  3. Q&A: For interactive questions from delegates during the event. Ideally, these questions and comments should appear within the video feed itself so it can be easily captured in the archive.
  4. Community engagement post-event: Following up with attendees — for example, sending out speakers’ presentation decks, connecting people one-on-one, and signaling your next event.
  5. Multi-source inputs (headshots, split-screen headshots, slides, videos): To let us to cut between all of these formats within a speaker’s presentation.
  6. Video archival: To have the event stored on YouTube or some other video hosting platform for later viewing.
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Nice to have

  1. Simulcast video distribution: To broadcast the video across multiple platforms at the same time, e.g. YouTube Live and Facebook Live.
  2. Metrics: When did people join the event? How long did they stay for? Who were the most popular speakers?

Not essential

  1. Program management: To quickly put together a rundown, allowing you to move things around as needed. Only matters if you have a complex show to execute.
  2. Speaker management: To help people discover who’s speaking. This could just go on the website, or pushed on social.
  3. Payments: A seamless way to buy a ticket as part of the registration process. We didn’t charge for Splice Low-Res, so it wasn’t important for us.

Software

Hopin: We tried this — spent $100 on it — but realized it was too cumbersome and too inflexible for what we needed. That said, Hopin checks a lot of boxes, from registrations and speaker management to chat conversations and output. There were just too many levels of complexity for us. We were also disappointed with the slow response by tech support (granted, these are busy days for them).

Zoom: A favorite for many, but we didn’t like the UI. The dealbreaker was that people would need to download the app just to join the event.

Google Hangouts/Meet: We went with this in the end for two good reasons: Everyone has joined a Google Hangout before — it’s familiar ground. And it only takes one click to get you in. It doesn’t tick all the boxes, but it was the most frictionless option we found.

We did have to manually let everybody in, but that wasn’t a massive problem. The bandwidth, given how many people were online at the same time, was amazing. Meet also allows you to record straight into your Google Drive, which is helpful when you need to share the video quickly.

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(Disclosure: The Google News Initiative sponsored Splice Low-Res. But they never once asked us to use their services.)

OBS Studio: We stole this idea from the gaming community, which has been using OBS for years to dress up their live streams. OBS, which is open source, allowed us to add graphics, scenes, and branding — and output it all as a live stream. OBS also works across Windows and Macs.

We actually created all our scenes in OBS, but decided against using it in the end because it would have been hard for us to manage from multiple locations across six hours. Instead, we used Google Slides to create branded welcome slides, program rundowns for Asia and Europe, as well as house rules. But we’ll probably revisit OBS the next time we do Low-Res.

YouTube Live: From OBS, we wanted to get it out to YouTube in real time; it would have been the most obvious way to archive our show. But then we decided against that — the goal should be to drive all real-time participation through Meet, and upload the video to YT after the event.

Mailchimp: We manage almost the entire Splice business on MailChimp — our newsletters run on it, as well as our landing pages, some social automation, and now surveys. It made sense to collect all email registrations here so we could quickly send updates to folks.

Carrd: We used this for our splicelowres.com website. It’s one of the most beautiful one-page website builders out there. If you only need a single page, this is perfect.

Hardware

Sound: It’s quite simple: Sound is more important than video when it comes to keeping an audience engaged in a online event. Even if the video is iffy, it’s essential that people are able to listen to it. So always insist that people plug in headphones and mics (even those iPhone earbuds make a huge difference). But even the best mic can’t do much in an echo-y room or on a noisy street. So make sure your speakers are in quiet places — and that everyone else is on mute.

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Video: Most standard webcams will do the trick. Google Meet will only take you up to 720p in resolution, so you don’t actually need crazy stuff like 1080p or 4K. If you want to do a little better, just add lighting: face a bright window or set up a simple lighting kit.

Tips

Collaborate: Don’t do this on your own. It was challenging enough for just Rishad and I. So we worked with Jakub Górnicki at Outriders to bring it all together. He organized the European segment, while we handled the Asia program. If there’s one lesson from COVID-19, it’s the importance of collaboration.

Slides: Some people had some problems sharing their presentations on Meet. So as a backup, make sure you get them to share their decks with you separately — then you can present it for them if you need to. Google Slides are always easier to deal with than PowerPoint attachments.

Timekeeping: Some speakers will run late. Some will have problems connecting. So make sure you have people you can count on to do a bit of quick banter to keep the conversation going.

Networking: Plenty of people will want to stay in touch with each other. Just get them to leave their email addresses in the chat window if they’re up for that.

Over-communicate: Many people will have the same questions: Is this being recorded? How will we stay in touch? How can I get that deck? You’ll have to repeat the ground rules often, especially for newcomers.

Welcoming: Call out new people as they join. Make them feel at home.





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