Technology for Good and The Accessibility of Interactive StreamingMay 2, 2023
Picture this: a young woman is playing an acoustic guitar inside a ramshackle bedroom. The early morning forest can be seen through her busted-out window. You can hear her singing as the camera pans across her eyes and hands. It’s a cinematic view, but it’s not cinema. It is, in fact, a cut scene from the popular video game, The Last of Us.
To many of us, The Last of Us is a recent phenomenon – a heavy hitting HBO television series. But to many devoted fans, it’s a trailblazing video game franchise that was more video than game. The Last of Us dared to bring storytelling in gaming to the next level and was often thought of as an interactive movie experience.
Recently, Wowza’s Chief Solutions Architect, Barry Owen, participated in a roundtable webinar by Heart+Mind Strategies that sought to explore interactivity in streaming media. The roundtable featured numerous insights on the future of interactive streaming and how it does and could continue to serve the common good.
The discussion was led by Heart+Mind Strategies Chief Growth Officer, Maury Giles, and featured such industry heavy hitters as Jesse Uram, SVP of Growth at Westbrook, Grady Miller, CMO at National Research Group (NRG) and former Global Insights/Strategy Lead at Apple TV+, and David Rose, CEO at ClearWater AR. You can view the discussion in full in the embedded video below. However, in this article we’ll be focusing on how technological developments in streaming, interactive streaming included, have made it more accessible and the broader implications of that fact.
Background on Heart+Mind Strategies
Heart+Mind Strategies is a research forward consulting firm that seeks to dissect how people make choices and the underlying values that drive them. They started their Connections series back when the pandemic initially hit. As marketing strategists with a humanist focus, they wanted to do exactly that – connectwith people at a time when the world had other plans.
“The common goal that we all have is that we are interested in human beings,” says Maury Giles of the Connection series. “We are looking to be able to connect with people.”
Other Connections series topics included the influence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on the workforce, impacts of sustainable transportation, and the question of whether or not to continue remote work. Now they turn their attention to interactive media and its role in experiential marketing.
Understanding Interactivity in Streaming
The Last of Us is a powerful example of how interactive media can cultivate holistic viewer experiences, but it only scratches the surface of what interactive streaming can do. Truthfully, interactive streaming runs the gamut between something as simple as emojis on a live stream or complex as live virtual reality concerts. In fact, the last Zoom meeting you had with your coworkers was definitively interactive as you inevitably asked a question, made an expression, or forgot to turn your microphone off while taking a phone call.
So, what’s the big deal?
Cross Platform Experiences
Grady Miller of NRG talks about For All Mankind, an Apple TV+ original series that portrays an alternate future in which the space race had continued. Of course, Apple didn’t stop there. They supplemented the series with augmented reality (AR) experiences through a complimentary app that provided viewers with additional information. In other words, to fully experience the story, you had to do more than watch. Miller referred to this Time Capsule experience as “superserving fans” – going above and beyond expectations. It also served as a way to maintain engagement between seasons.
Technology for Self-Improvement
Miller goes on to note that according to NRG research, self-improvement and learning are of primary interest to viewers in regard to virtual reality, an inherently interactive medium. Augmented reality and more traditional modes of interactive media also dabble in self-improvement. MixPose, a yoga app, embraces interactive digital fitness with Wowza’s help as a means to serve instructors and practitioners alike. And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to digital fitness.
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On the surface, Fortnite is a popular video game franchise. Underneath, it’s a crossroads between social networking, gaming, and streaming. Fans will tell you that the community built around Fortnite is as essential to the experience as the game itself. Many community members find that the ability to connect with others in real time over a common interest makes them feel less alone and more able to be themselves. In this way a key element of interactivity is the ability to build and feel a part of communities.
Bringing People Closer Together
Granted this sounds a lot like community building. But the pandemic left many of us remote from our loved ones in ways we never expected. It’s a distance that was not so unknown to anxious parents with children in neonatal units. AngelEye Health partnered with Wowza to implement low-latency streaming and link parents with their children, including interactive components to help families better connect with the child and be a part of the overarching care team.
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Of course, emerging technology is at its most exciting when we consider not just what it is doing but what it could do. Additionally, these changes come with some potentially huge paradigm shifts, the beginnings of which we can already see in how consumers are finding and engaging with content.
Where Is Interactive Streaming Headed?
Wowza’s Barry Owen wants you to imagine walking into a virtual reality event space. An exclusive live concert experience is being livestreamed a that very moment. Maybe it’s the Roblox metaverse. Maybe it’s Decentraland. The streamers could be singers, DJs, or one of the handful of companies working with Wowza to accomplish this exact goal. Now factor in the reality that two-way interactivity is increasingly more common.
So, where is interactive streaming headed? The answer is both exactly where you’d expect and no where you could possibly have imagined.
Platform Integration to Better Reach Viewers
Interesting to note in the above example is the fact that the viewer is not going online to a website or downloading the media they want to view. Viewers are creating communities in these virtual spaces and the streamers are coming to them. Platform integration, therefore, is likely to be a cornerstone of interactive streaming moving forward.
“One of our partners can inject a live stream into anything created by an Unreal world,” says Owen of platform integration. “By plunking live streams into these environments, you meet people where they are.”
As platform integration becomes more easily implemented, these experiences will likely become smoother, more robust, and more easily monetized.
Paradigm Shift to Empowered Customer
Why does it matter that we meet people where they are? Jesse Uram of Westbrook, an entertainment venture company founded by Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, speaks to the importance of respecting a community that can talk back to you.
“You’re coming into their world, and you’re trying to get them to engage in your world. You need to make sure that you’re making something that actually serves them and treats them with respect,” says Uram, “that requires knowing how to make and create in each of those spaces.”
By “those spaces,” Uram is referring to various platforms, but it’s what he says about people that resonates the most. Historically, marketing has been more of a game than a conversation (at least if Don Draper has anything to say about it). But in an increasingly interactive world, marketers who, as Uram puts it, “hold disdain for their audience” will find themselves left behind.
AI in Interactive Streaming
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is taking writing, coding, and art by storm. Why shouldn’t its creative and predictive potential be applied to streaming media?
Unity’s David Rose is excited about the potential for AI not to replace but to facilitate content creation for streamed media. “You can change your role to become more of a critic or an art director.” He adds that the potential for this technology in live streamed media lies in more tailored viewer experiences as “Like a good conversation – media should not know exactly where it’s going – it should be able to tailor itself in real time.”
Miller notes the potential that generative AI has for gaming. Multidimensional prompts can make game play feel more real and increase replayability. This depth of interactivity creates a more meaningful and dynamic experience. Of course, not mentioned in the discussion is No Man’s Sky, the notorious open world game with an AI generative twist that was accused of being a scam or gimmick as it struggled to get its footing. Although it’s not particularly tailored in the randomized settings it provides, it is a first glimpse at where many games may soon be journeying.
“My head is spinning with the possibilities from everything we’ve talked about,” says Owen when asked about AI in interactive streaming, “I love the idea of things changing as they go – a choose your own adventure as you experience content.”
The Democratization of Streaming
Let’s reflect on a world where nearly every computer comes equipped with a webcam and where my six-year-old son is asking me for his own YouTube channel. Streaming is miles more accessible now than it was even 10 years ago both for those looking to consume and those looking to produce.
More Accessible Technology for Creators and Consumers
This means easier access for companies and individuals to basic streaming tools. It also means that those tools are far easier to use and produce better quality streams than their predecessors. Finally, anyone looking for a specific video can find it with a simple online search or Smart TV.
“It’s easier to contribute and consume video now than it has ever been before with the advent of better networks, 5G, and all that – it has democratized livestreaming to a certain extent – where you don’t have to sit somewhere with a high bandwidth connection.” Owen elaborates on how innovative technologies like WebRTC that drive down latency for high quality streams help to level the playing field for production and access to interactive streams as well. “You no longer need specialized equipment to create a good experience – sure professional cameras, audio equipment and lighting make a difference, but an iPhone, a ring light and a decent microphone can get you a really high-quality video.” Owen adds, noting how now “everyone can participate.”
Accessibility Encourages Risks and Innovation
A lower barrier for entry does more than just make it easier for individuals to produce and consume streaming media. As Giles notes, it “makes it more tempting to make things live and interactive.” In other words, companies are encouraged to take more risks, driving innovation and continuing to push the boundaries of what is easily accessible to individual content creators.
The effect of this is twofold. Eventually, the democratization of streaming is also the democratization of interactive streaming. However, before that, you’ll be seeing a greater number of innovative applications of interactivity on the part of industry leading companies.
More Interactive Streams Better Serve the Audience
More accessible technology plus innovation from those companies that have the means will lead to more interactive media overall, as well as an increase in the practical value of that interactivity. This is how what once were considered gimmicks turn into trends, which then become the status quo. It also means that technology that is more audience-centric, as is the case with interactive media, will continue to push the needle in favor of audiences.
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The Implications of More Accessible Streaming
Now picture this: You’re in downtown London when a protest breaks out. Immediately you pull out your phone and log into a streaming app that allows you to capture and broadcast live news events to viewers worldwide.
No, this isn’t another video game. This is LiveTube, a Wowza customer that seeks to democratize live news by giving individuals the power to broadcast from their phones through a specified app. Granted, these streams go through an approval process that factors in an intentional few seconds of latency in case anything were to go wrong and to discourage thrill seekers from taking unnecessary risks. But the spirit of democratized news is alive and well.
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“Democratization of access is also democratization of content creation,” Giles says in response to Owen’s discussion of accessibility. More accessible streaming lends itself to more voices.
Here we see a lot of the major themes coming together. Streaming accessibility leads to democratized content creation, which leads to more content period. Empowered viewers have more to choose from and are themselves given a voice through certain types of interactive media. Finally, when there’s more to choose from, then choice itself becomes more powerful, demanding that content creators (big and small) step up to better serve their audiences.
Better serve YOUR audience and explore a platform that has shown through numerous case studies that we drive streaming innovation, interactive and otherwise.