You Don’t Need Forrest Gump’s Mom for an Effective Live Video

Four-Seasons-Beverly-Hills-pool_54_990x660Every six months the Television Critics Association (TCA)—some 400 media folks who get paid to watch television and write, talk, tweet and blog about it—commandeers a Hollywood-area hotel for two to three weeks. During that time the critics, holed up in a darkened ballroom, are witness to an almost nonstop parade of broadcast, cable, and increasingly, online networks presenting their wares for the coming six months. On stage are directors, producers, show-runners and writers who form the creative and financial teams of television. There's also the talent, aka stars, who work in front of the cameras. The critics ask questions from breakfast until 6 p.m. or so; some of the people on stage do their best to answer the questions, others do a great job batting them away.

Of course, as the TCA bible says (old and new testaments), "TV critics cannot live by bread alone, frequently there must be cocktails and substantial hors d’oeuvres." That’s why the presenting networks often stage fairly lavish parties at day's end, replete with open bars and television stars and executives. [It has been mentioned informally that there's a direct relationship between the quality of a network's party and the review a critic writes about said network's TV shows. This has NEVER been proven, however.]

What’s any of this got to do with PR? Well, it's a major communications operation. TV PR people are on call 24/7 for these weeks. Even at the parties. Especially at the parties (don't ask). But that's not the focus of this blog.

We hear frequently that a great way to humanize a brand is to use live streaming to bring followers behind the scenes, allowing them to enjoy experiences they wouldn’t normally have access to. Tonight, Disney and ABC Television, for the first time, will be offering fans just such an experience. And I think it's a great idea and at a low cost. They will stream on Facebook Live what is traditionally a fabulous party for TV critics, stars and network executives in the Viennese Ballroom of the beautiful Langham Hotel, nestled in a gorgeous residential neighborhood of Pasadena. TCA critics decamp to Pasadena each winter while their regular summer hotel, the Beverly Hilton, much closer to Hollywood, is busy hosting the Golden Globes. The photo of a hotel's lovely pool, devoid of patrons (upper left), is pretty much the way the Langham's bathing venue remains during TCA weeks. It's the lucky critic who has time to spare from attending sessions, writing, tweeting and sleeping sporadically to use the pool, save for an evening network poolside party (oh, that March of the Penguins soiree was memorable).

Officially the ABC Disney live stream is set to run from 4:45 p.m. PT to 8:30 p.m. PT and will feature stars and executives who faced the TCA press during the day. Joining them will be additional cast members and executives from ABC, Disney Channel and Freeform shows. Freeform is the new-ish name of the network that called itself ABC Family for 16 years.

The early part of the live stream (4:45-7:45 p.m. PT) will feature stars walking the white carpet (red carpets are reserved for premieres and awards shows) as they enter the ballroom for the party. You’ll find that stream on the Freeform Facebook page, ABC says. After that, according to ABC, fans can switch over to the ABC Network Facebook page to see “all your beloved ABC stars.”

While not every brand has the budget or the Hollywood actors to produce a fancy-looking video for Facebook Live or other live-streaming platforms, remember that beyond a few imperatives, such as adequate light and proper sound, live streaming is supposed to be an unpolished affair. Viewers will be taken aback by a live stream that looks as produced as a television series.

And just because brands such as ABC or Disney have relatively large budgets, it doesn’t necessarily mean their digital marketing and publicity teams receive gold coins. As John Yembrick, social media manager in NASA’s office of communications, said in a recent article by my colleague Jerry Ascierto, when NASA, whose budget request for FY 2017 was nearly $19 billion, did its first live stream, of a rocket launch, it used a mobile phone aimed at a television screen that was carrying the NASA TV feed.

As for tonight’s live stream from Pasadena, from what Nate Reeves of ABC Media Relations tells us, it's likely to be a relatively low-key affair tech wise; there won’t be a great deal of overthinking going on. (We can't promise anything about over-drinking, though.) And somewhat similar to NASA’s live video, stars will be involved, including those from ScandalThe Catch and Pretty Little Liars, among many others. While we didn't get details about the later portion of the stream, for the initial bit “the camera will be placed at an aerial view at the top of the white carpet,” Reeves says. In other words, it will be what Gary Vaynerchuk refers to as document, don’t create.

Although I'm advocating making normal events and people associated with your brand the stars of your live video, a real star doesn't hurt.  Even your blogger, a seasoned TV critic, will admit to a few goose bumps when just minutes after catching a glimpse of Sally Field on TV in his hotel room as Forrest Gump’s mother, Field was literally behind him on line to get a drink at one of the many bars at an ABC party. See, life really is like a box of chocolates. Or chocolate liqueur, as the case may be.

Follow Seth: @skarenstein