"This was going to be a content-generating machine," says Roy Sekoff, the president and co-creator of HuffPost Live and founding editor of the Huffington Post. Just outside his office, about 70 producers and hosts are busy filling the live stream’s 12 hours of daily programming.
The space they work in is decorated with dark wood, vintage couches, and black and white portraits of old-school journalists. Hosts carry their laptops into a glass studio where they use them to monitor comments on-air, and producers in a dark side room patch together video feeds from both the studio and the webcams of remote guests.
In the six months since HuffPost Live launched, this team, along with one like it in Los Angeles, has created about 3,900 segments covering everything from the presidential election to Kate Middleton’s baby bump. After being chopped into about 10,000 video clips and redistributed throughout the Huffington Post, those segments have drawn more than 149 million views. The number of HuffPost Live video views has grown from 15.6 million in November to 27 million in January.
HuffPost Live is really two businesses in one. As a video content creator for the Huffington Post, the show is off to a successful start. As an innovative live video platform, it may still need to prove itself as the future. Whereas NowThisNews and BuzzFeed, both of which have Huffington Post roots, create content consumed largely within social networks or mobile devices, HuffPost Live pulls social activity onto its own website and into its show.
Its bet is on engagement. Comments take up more room on the HuffPost Live site than video. Its studio has a green room where guests—often the same Huffington Post writers that appear as guests on cable news shows—wait to go on air. But the website also has green rooms for each upcoming story where producers list source materials for upcoming segments and invite viewers to apply, by video recording, to be part of the on-air show. The latter green rooms give the show a man-on-the-street interview quality, but one in which the street is as infinite as the Twitterverse and the man is invited into a conversation rather than given a sound bite.
"If you think about what Huff Post did in 2005, we elevated blogging," says Arianna Huffington, the president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post. "We suddenly had Arthur Schlesinger and Walter Cronkite and politicians and actors who would write anywhere blog on the Huffington Post and be next to people that nobody knew of, who might have been high school students or college students. For HuffPost Live, we did the opposite. Everybody is used to seeing famous people on TV.... What we did is we took people nobody had heard of and put them at the center of the conversation together with Tom Friedman and Michael Moore and Bill Maher and people who we are all used to seeing on TV all the time. But the principle is the same."
Inviting the audience into the conversation sometimes works brilliantly. During a recent conversation about U.S. Middle East policy and oil with Friedman, for instance, a woman who lives in Saudi Arabia left a video comment in which she asked Friedman a question about how the country's culture is portrayed in the United States. In Friedman’s words: "Cool."
Most of the time, however, the right people don’t just show up to participate. Sekoff estimates his team sources about 10% to 20% of the show’s guests from the online green room. And the majority of HuffPost Live's 9.7 million monthly unique viewers watch the show's segments on Huffington Post after they are no longer live rather than participate in the real-time conversation.
With 27 million monthly views on its videos, however, advertisers don't necessarily need the Internet to convert to the live interactive show overnight. Huffington says Cadillac and Verizon, the show's seven-figure sponsors, have already renewed their contracts for next year. "The convergence of all screens has not really happened yet," says Sekoff. "It’s getting closer. Very soon this," he points to his computer, "and this," he points to a television screen, "and your tablet really are going to be the same thing. And when that happens, we’re really going to be in the vanguard of it."
[Images: Bogdan Mohora/Damon Dahlen/AOL/Huffington Post]