Harvard Athletics’ Three Tips for Facebook Live Success

Facebook Live is the current hot platform for online video, but how can publishers get the most out of it — pleasing fans while driving business goals? Stepping up with answers is Imry Halevi, the director of multimedia and production at Harvard University. He’s learned a few things about doing Facebook Live right, and reached out to SVG to share those lessons.

harvardhockeyHarvard is part of the Ivy League Digital Network, which is managed by NeuLion. The network is a subscription service that lets Ivy alums and fans watch all the action from the brainiest college division around. Facebook Live is complementary to the OTT offering, a way to promote it.

“Our goal is not to remove too much content from the digital network; our goal is to market the digital network,” Halevi says.

People won’t subscribe to a service if they don’t know about it, so the league uses Facebook Live to spread the word. Since each of the eight member schools has a strong follower base on Facebook (Harvard currently has 35,000), promoting with Facebook Live seemed like the obvious choice, says Halevi.

The league does this by holding a Facebook Live Week three times each year (the winter week recently concluded). During these weeks, each member school streams select games for free over Facebook Live, showing followers exactly what they’ll get if they subscribe to the OTT offering.

Harvard coordinates with NeuLion on which games it streams to Facebook Live, a necessity since NeuLion is the exclusive digital provider. Putting so much content online for free is a calculated risk.

“It could take some short-term revenue away — someone who could potentially have purchased a pass to watch a specific game on the Ivy League Digital Network will now go to Facebook Live and watch it for free — that’s a possibility. Long term, it has the benefits of increased exposure and increased revenue, which we and NeuLion agreed is worth it,” Halevi says.

Here are three tips from Halevi on planning for Facebook Live:

I. Sponsorships: Facebook Doesn’t Allow Them
The only difference in the streams Harvard puts on Facebook is that the Facebook videos are ad-free. That’s because Facebook’s policies don’t allow ads on live video.

“Facebook as a general rule does not like people to use sponsored content or commercial content within streams,” says Halevi. “We have some commercial content— we play commercials during our basketball media timeouts and hockey breaks. That’s something that we had to discuss internally and with our sponsorship partner, and decide that we’ll be dropping it for these games, realizing that long-term we will probably get more eyeballs watching our commercials on the Ivy League Digital Network.”

II. Supporting Dual-Streaming Is a Challenge
During its Facebook Live Weeks, Harvard still has to satisfy paying OTT fans. That means offering simulcasts for all Facebook games, a technical challenge. For smaller productions, such as water polo, Harvard produces events with Telestream Wirecast software on a MacBook Pro. Wirecast lets publishers produce an event once and send it to multiple destinations.

Harvard handles larger productions with a NewTek TriCaster and 3Play. Halevi didn’t want to burden his NewTeks with dual streaming, so he added a new component.

“We did some research to figure out what would be a financially attainable solution to streaming our games out of TriCaster to Facebook Live. We landed on the Teredek Cube,” says Halevi. “We took an SDI out from our TriCaster and put it into the Teredek Cube, and that was dedicated for Facebook Live streaming which has worked out very well.”

III. Take Advantage of Scheduling
Facebook recently debuted scheduled events, which makes starting a live stream much easier. Creating a scheduled event lets publishers test and start a stream ahead of time, while video doesn’t go live until its set hour. This saves publishers the hassle of having to push the Start button exactly when the event begins.

“We tried it this past weekend,” says Halevi. “It worked out well, and it actually allows us to better gather our audience for Facebook because Facebook puts up a slate that says, ‘Harvard will be live at 7:00 p.m. tonight,’ and so people know. People start sharing it, people start liking it, people start waiting there because they know something is about to happen.”

Harvard has been trying to measure the results of Facebook Live Weeks, but doesn’t have a lot of data so far. It sees a tenfold increase in viewership for games on Facebook Live compared to the OTT platform. But is the promotion leading to an increase in subscriptions? Halevi thinks so, but can’t be certain. His team is now working with NeuLion to create accurate metrics.

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