As livestreaming becomes a growing part of news organisations' digital strategies, some best practices are starting to emerge, both for live videos on social media and elsewhere online. While experimenting with a variety of formats, publishers are beginning to learn what types of stories lend themselves to livestreaming and what workflows are better suited for each platform.

At the beginning of 2016, The Associated Press (AP) highlighted the number of live videos they produced had increased by 25 per cent in 2015 compared to the previous year, and new services were being rolled out to offer more types of livestreaming coverage to digital publishers and broadcasters, apart from breaking news.

AP is now producing around 600 lives per month, so which of their videos are most popular with publishers?

Breaking news

"I don't think it's a surprise that audiences gravitate towards breaking news, as there is such an expectation that when stories break, people get to see and know information about it quickly," Derl McCrudden, head of international video news for AP, told

"Our firm experience over the last year or so is that breaking news will always attract the most attention."

When a story breaks, the power of live video lies in its ability to give viewers a front row seat in how the event will unfold, but there are also many challenges and implications that come with it, including lack of context, safety and privacy concerns, or the risk of causing people emotional trauma through unexpected graphic images.

McCrudden said that when such events or their aftermath are being broadcast live, the same journalistic standards that underpin all other forms of coverage have to be applied.

"If there is breaking news where people are hurt, injured or vulnerable in any way, such as a terror attack, showing a wide scene rather than going close up with the camera shots is important in order to protect people and give them dignity.

"This is a really important issue that needs to be addressed as part of the planning process, so people can deal with it ahead of time and work out what the potential pitfalls are."

'Anticipation' news

Livestreaming also played a role in the coverage of the birth of Prince George and Princess Charlotte, with cameras watching the hospital doors around the clock a week before the Duchess of Cambridge's due date.

When the idea for the stream was first mentioned to McCrudden, he was reluctant to go ahead and thought "there was no story there", but the first stream saw high engagement, averaging a 30-minute viewing time for one publisher.

"When people think about newscasts, they have this 1970s view of a person at the scene, narrating what's happened, retrospectively.

"But that has changed and this worked because it gave audiences a front row seat to what might happen, to what could unfold, and I think it was about giving people the opportunity to decide when to opt in on it, which is not something you get with hard, breaking news.

"We are now seeking out opportunities when we know something is going to happen, so that we can put up the signal earlier, similarly to how it works for the US presidential debates for example, when you know the candidates will be coming on stage."

On how Facebook Live has changed the livestreaming landscape, McCrudden said "it's still early days" and while it may take longer for the industry to fully appreciate its impact, "it has engaged publishers and consumers to the power of live".

On 6 October, AP went live on Facebook as news about Hurricane Matthew broke, but the two-hour stream of the storm hitting the Bahamas and moving towards Florida was also an example of anticipating an event that will impact the US. The video was AP's widest-reaching Facebook Live to date, McCrudden said, with a total of 735,862 views at the time of writing.

Immersive news

"Immersion is about the opportunity to take someone to the scene of a story, and let them see for themselves what is happening.

"And it's precisely because of the cheap entry point to producing live video that we are now able to livestream for a long period of time from places where such videos would've been unimaginable before, because of costs or logistical reasons," he explained.

For the past two years, AP has run a live stream from the eight-day bull run in Pamplona, Spain, which McCrudden said is "an event known around the world, but not one that people are known to watch live".

"We are now trying to enable that to happen, especially as our customers are experimenting with softer news.

"Each run only lasts about three minutes, but it's compelling viewing because people can see for themselves how participants are reacting in front of the bulls, and watch it from beginning to end. It's not just a video edit we produce."

Another example of an immersive live stream has been AP's coverage of the Vivid outdoor festival in Sydney, where interactive light installations and projections are displayed on various buildings and landmarks in the city, such as the Opera House.

"Because the light shows animate and they are not static, it gives people the chance to digest it as 'slow news'."

Interactive news

McCrudden said the interactive aspect of livestreaming is "all about the collision between live and social media, because it enables us to engage with our audiences in real-time, and crucially, lets people engage with the live feed."

"A lot of people are exploring the interactive aspect through Facebook Live and other channels, and I think this area is where people can really experiment, to find out where [live video] can take the story."

Most news outlets experimenting with Facebook Live recognise that a lot of the format's interactivity lies in people's ability to comment on the streams, to ask the host or reporter to explore a different aspect of the topic being discussed, or follow up with an interviewee through additional questions.

At NPR, the organisation's Facebook Live strategy is geared towards getting viewers to take an active role in the broadcasts whenever possible, which means the team has developed bespoke video segments which rely on interactivity, such as Ask Me Another, a series where the hosts play a live word game with the viewers.

The costs of producing live video might be low and the opportunities greater, McCrudden said, but "this doesn't mean it's easy to integrate live into the workflow", or that publishers have to feel pressured to offer all possible types of livestreaming coverage.

While "live should play a part in their strategic objectives" going forward, he added, the type of livestreaming news outlets offer will be influenced by how well resourced they are, their core values, and whether they are using the format to engage with audiences directly, raise awareness of their brand or as an opportunity to monetise video.

"We've seen some lives from religious events being streamed on Facebook, we've seen cultural events such as human towers being built at a festival in Spain, but we've also seen quirkier stories, such as the live stream from Naples recently where people attempted to make the world's largest pizza.

"These are all AP customers who are known for their breaking news coverage, so while people might expect traditional news organisations to be focused on certain types of content, we are seeing that as we experiment, publishers are responding and experimenting in turn."

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).