Social Live Streaming Experiments

The PGA TOUR’S Digital Content team has been experimenting with Periscope on Twitter and Facebook Live since the early days and recently, YouTube Live via the mobile app. The ability to provide exclusive, authentic and unedited access to our players has allowed us to reach new audiences and create new sponsorship opportunities.

With over 1 million likes on Facebook and the chance for content to be shared and seen long after being published, Facebook has provided us the largest audience. Before deciding whether content should be a live video or an edited piece, we ask ourselves whether it will encourage conversation. The true value of going live, as opposed to post-producing a video, is to inspire fan engagement.

Whether walking inside the ropes with a player, streaming a winner’s press conference, hanging out at home with a player, or having golfers play fun games together, fans are given a unique, personal look at some of their favorite players.

When we first began going live from our smartphones, we were excited about providing a behind-the-scenes experience to our fans. However, we knew almost immediately that addressing the quality of audio and stabilizing our phones were priorities. Our fans were not shy about letting us know as much — a benefit of real-time feedback. After extensive research, trial and error, and some suggestions from our friends at Facebook, we now have a collection of gear that is working for us.

To stabilize our phones when walking, we use a BeastGrip (sometimes with a wide-angle lens) or 3-axis motorized gimbal. For audio with two people, we have wireless Lavalier microphones and receivers routed through a portable mixer that feeds into our smartphones. Our producers carry the audio package in an over-the-shoulder bag and can adjust volume levels on the fly. If only one person is mic’d, we can bypass the audio bag and run a mic into a smartphone through an iRig Pre. After finding the right equipment, the next challenge was teaching a staff of producers, many of whom don’t have video production experience, how to use the gear.

Once we implemented our new equipment, the fun really began! Our walk-and-talk interviews where we tag along with players during a practice round have become a staple and a fan favorite. Fans can comment in real time and enjoy when their questions are addressed. Some of our personal favorite on-site Facebook Lives include a walk-and-talk with Ellie Day as she followed husband Jason during his practice roundTony Finau, Daniel Summerhays, and Ollie Schniederjans playing H-O-R-S-E and an inside look at Sergio Garcia’s media tour of New York after winning the Masters.

One of our most successful live broadcasts was with Brendan Steele and Linkin Park bassist Dave “Phoenix” Farrell. After Linkin Park shared our live video with their nearly 62 million Facebook followers, the viewership rapidly increased to record-breaking numbers. Other videos that have been well-liked by our fans include a tour of Arnold Palmer’s office; a lighthouse tourwith Matthew Fitzpatrick at Harbour Town; and driving to The Honda Classic with Camilo Villegas. These live videos give fans the opportunity to learn more about their favorite players and sometimes catch them in a candid moment, such as when Camilo Villegas’ mother called during our ride-along interview.

In addition to live interviews and fun videos with players, we also want our fans to experience the excitement of a tournament. In May, the TOUR partnered with Intel True VR to place three cameras at the TPC Sawgrass PLAYERS Stadium Course’s famed island-green 17th hole. The live video stream was available on Twitter and Periscope during all four days of THE PLAYERS Championship, offering our fans a 360-degree experience of the iconic hole. Even though we’re still experimenting with virtual reality, we look forward to providing more content with this unique perspective to our fans.

Although we’ve seen much success in our early days of using Facebook Live, there are still some hurdles to overcome. When you’re relying on a smartphone for consistent connectivity, it’s not always going to be perfect. There are a lot of variables that can impact cell service, and being at a crowded golf tournament doesn’t always make it easy to maintain a solid connection. To avoid dropping in and out of our feed, we encourage all producers to test their upload speed before going live on Facebook.

Recently, we’ve begun using a professional camera paired with a LiveU pack for more reliable streaming, which continues to be especially useful when we go live from the range. LiveU provides a high-quality picture with a more solid connection using multiple cell phone cards bonded together, which feeds back to our office. We have begun to use LiveU on the range with featured groups and for other content where a quality connection is imperative.

We have also been experimenting with live preview and news shows from our office. We use Lavalier microphones, professional lights and a high definition camera, along with an assortment of other software and equipment to heighten the production value.

Since it’s all in the name of our fans, we’ve made sure their voices are being heard by using Telescope’s Live Studio to encourage engagement. With Live Studio, we can incorporate a poll question and fans cast their votes in real time. A member of our team pushes the poll questions on-screen throughout the show, so viewers who tune in at any given time can participate. We often display fan comments on-screen so they know we are acknowledging their input. In addition, we can create a graphic that shows what topics are “coming up next” in the live video. Lastly, by using a TriCaster, we have the ability to add Skype video calls with on-site staff, display more graphics and run b-roll for what is being discussed.

Based on easily accessible analytics, we have regularly adjusted our strategy of when and why we go live from our office. We have found that the best way to engage fans in a dialogue is to go live when there’s already a conversation going on in the golf world. For example, we decided to discuss Dustin Johnson’s dominance after he won his third consecutive tournament at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. Another success was a special “What’s on your Masters Champions Dinner menu.” We tweeted to fans prior to going live and incorporated some of their answers into the show. It was great content during a week where we lack video rights, and fans loved giving their input.

Whether on or off the course, Facebook Live and Periscope have proven to be integral tools for our digital department. We’re excited to continue providing our fans exclusive access to their favorite players and look forward to exploring new ways to create an unparalleled experience.