HuffPost Live is a winner

Screenshot of a political discussion on the Huffington Post’s HuffPost Live.

Some people you watch more closely than others.  If they do something, based on their track record, you really pay attention.  They know something.  They’ve demonstrated an expertise.  They know something.

We all know that video is booming in the digital space.  That ain’t new.  The BBC Olympic numbers only validate the boom.  Wow.

But we knew this before.  It was just a matter of time before the technology and the opportunity married up.  Even a decade ago, if you had the right video people would watch it — no matter how slow their connection.

When we offered up video tours of the White House back in 2002, for example, the video plays exploded.  Of course it didn’t hurt that we had President Bush give a tour of the Oval Office, Karl Rove act as a tour guide for the Roosevelt Room, and Vice President Cheney show off the vice president’s ceremonial office and many more.

The video was strong enough that people went to it.

HuffPost Live

Now we see a true innovator — the Huffington Post — offer 12 hours of live video programming per day in what they’re calling HuffPost Live.

They’ve proven their chops.  They know what their doing.  That doesn’t mean they’re always right.  The short-lived paid magazine, for example, might be an example of ‘fail fast.’  That’s great either way.  They’re learning from it.

Canary

We know that video works.  We’ve seen it at latimes.com.  When we provide the video that people are interested in, they’ll watch it.  And they’re voting yes on our Google Hangouts.

The fact that the Huffington Post is going balls-out on this tells us something.  The audience is out there.  12 hours worth?  Maybe.  But hand it to them for being the canary in the coal mine.

It’s not that risky.  This canary isn’t going to die.  Might the canary get a haircut?  Maybe.  They might not continue doing all 12 hours.  That’s a lot of programming to fill.  But they’re learning really fast here.

Speaking of ‘fast,’ Fast Company had one of their writers watch the first 12 hours of the live programming and kept a diary of her thoughts.  It’s good.  She likes it.

Some quotes of note:

Coincidentally, I get an email from The New York Times. “Get more out of your subscription with free access to Times videos!” Videos are a growing source of ad revenue online, and Huffington Post is clearly spending a ton of money on both equipment and experienced staff. They’re not just putting a camera on the newsroom for no reason, or forcing shy writers to ad-lib on screen (two personal pet peeves). HPL looks like an honest-to-goodness television network.

It looks like TV, but doesn’t sound like TV. It’s more like talk radio on video. It’s a streaming video version of whatever is “trending” on the Huffington Post site at that moment, with a bunch of opinions from bloggers, experts, and readers. And on HuffPo, as we know, whatever gets clicks gets space on the page–whether Syria or sideboob.

The limitations of HPL’s format become clear during these Google Hangout roundtable segments, with four or five people dialing in at a time. Several people talk at once because they can’t hear each other, random computer noises bleed through, and we can’t hear anyone. The visuals consist of that half-ceiling, half-cubicle-wall view thing, and the audio has that familiar warbly quality that encourages mental tune-out. Sometimes the people in the Hangout are in HuffPo’s offices–why not come to the studio? These segments have the potential to devolve into chaos unless the host is very good at directing questions to each person in turn. This could be a problem.

You know what’s weird? Even though I don’t recommend watching HPL for so many hours in a row, you actually could. By which I mean, I haven’t seen a single story repeat all day. Watching HPL is just like reading the site–click, click, click.

By comparison, every time I’ve flipped over to Fox or MSNBC, they’ve been talking about either the “escalating negativity” of the presidential campaign, or Biden’s latest “gaffe.” Every single time. In the absence of breaking news, cable networks are garbage. It’s a repetitive, grating commentary machine, focusing on conflict and scandal. HPL has its share of the same, but it also has 10,000 other things, and it never stays on one long enough to get boring. And there’s a lot less yelling, because usually all of the guests agree with each other. True, HPL also doesn’t provide very much depth, but for that, there’s always the newsp–click, click, click.

What people might get caught up on, but shouldn’t is this quote:

No offense to HPL’s ebullient hosts, but I really can’t wait to turn this off. They’re not ready to let me go, though. The conversation doesn’t end now, they say. “You can already start tonight, commenting on the news we are going to be talking about tomorrow.”

Don’t miss the point

The mistake we may make is thinking that people will actually watch 12 hours of video.  No one will.  The idea is to have video when people are there.  So it’s predictable.  People will check it out when they land on the page.  It’s predictable.

I love this.  The conversations are good.  Not only do they augment their existing content but they’re providing a predictable experience on their site.  People will know when they land that they’re live.  It’s no longer a static site (and the Huffington Post was the least-static site out there).  But now it’s different.  Visitors see the people.  This is important.  People want to know someone is there.

Forbes’ Michael Humphrey is a fan too:

Just for comparison, I watched the CNN Live Stream for awhile yesterday, and it was clear why HuffPost Live could be successful. Suddenly, CNN looked elitist with its well-suited guests, its complete lack of real social integration, its long commercial breaks. I went back to watching HuffPost Live because I wanted to.

HuffPost might have started with a complicated list of ideas, but the main one — a new kind of TV news channel — is simply right.

Follow me on Twitter @jimmyorr.com

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