NBC’s “Today” show used a live backstage streaming stunt to showcase the new Today.com Web page Tuesday. Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb hosted the one-hour “stream-living” event, as they decided to name it, starting at 7:30 a.m. EST.
Gifford and Kotb seamlessly cut between addressing the stream viewers and doing a cut-in for the “Today” broadcast. Their romp was like a variety show companion to the regular morning program. It was part behind-the-scenes tour and part inspiration for a Saturday Night Live skit. I’m still not sure why there seemed to be so much alcohol around the set at 7:30 in the morning. How many cooking segments were coming up?
Gifford and Kotb explained the new Today.com site is easier and faster than the old version, which they confessed to not using. Why were they picked to do this “stream-living?” Because everyone else was already on air at that hour, they said.
The live stream, I mean, stream-living (can we call it “stream-winning?”), was more than just a web-cam on a stick. Multiple handheld cameras followed Gifford and Kotb upstairs and downstairs through the control room, hallways, talent offices, green room, prop room, prep kitchen and outdoors. The stream included lower-third graphics and double-camera boxes at times to show the backstage stream-living and the broadcast show or other video simultaneously.
The fact that this stream happened while the real Today show was going on all around made it more interesting. There was a crowded, busy broadcast control room working while Gifford and Kotb did their streamed sideshow right there.
There were also at least three produced packages of lightweight but amusing topics related to the “Today” show and technology. A good producer always has back-up tape available in case a live shot crashes, so I bet there were more videos standing by just in case.
One of these covered the technology skill of the Today show talent. The consensus was Al Roker is the most tech-savvy. I’ll vouch for that. Roker jumped on the Internet band wagon early with his own web site featuring his original cartoon art. I featured that in my own Web Site of the Week morning show segment at KPNX-TV (NBC) in Phoenix back in the late 1990s. Roker helped Gifford and Kotb explain the technology several times during the live stream. He also sang “Kum Ba Yah” with them and Meredith Vieira in a hallway. Why? Why not?
The one who needed the most tech help was Meredith Vieira. They remedied this in the live stream by having Meredith send her first tweet from @meredithvieira. She used a laptop with a video output so we could watch her every keystroke. Her first tweet to 2,100 followers: “now that I’m tweeting…that twit, Lauer, can’t be far behind!” (She was up to 8,172 followers by midnight.) When someone explained her tweet was retweeted, Meredith said, “Ohhhh. Why would they do that?”
Kotb was more aware of social media and explained how she tweets from her phone. Gifford responded by pulling up Kotb’s skirt to reveal the garter-type thing where she keeps her smart phone. (Hoda, always make sure you turn off the camera before stowing your phone.)
My favorite part was the green room acoustic set. Avril Lavigne sang with just a guitar player for the stream. It came off as spontaneous even though Gifford and Kotb teased it at the start of the stream. It also showed Avril Lavigne can really sing. A lot of singers don’t sound good when performing live on a stick mic like that, but Avril sounded perfect. I’ve been a fan a long time, but Lavigne showed she doesn’t need any Autotune or studio magic. Kotb tweeted and posted her own picture of the set.
The handheld cameras provided ease of mobility in tight office spaces, but the picture suffered sometimes. The constant-motion shooting style normally used for the broadcast show outdoors meant the picture in this stream was always changing. This apparently made it harder for the encoder to keep up and some pixelation occurred. In general, the Flash video was a little fuzzy. The issue could also be with the encoding since even pre-roll commercials and other videos in the same player have the same fuzziness even with a high speed connection. The cameras looked like they may also have been wireless since I didn’t see anyone helping with cables, so that hop might have also limited video quality. The wireless mic audio was often fuzzy when Gifford and Kotb moved between parts of the building and was lost completely when they seemed to step too far into the depths of Rockefeller Center But just the fact that technology allows any of this is still kind of amazing and we shouldn’t take too much for granted.
The show and Web page promoted multiple social media elements: Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. They even have a presence in a horizontal bar that is persistent across the bottom of the site.
Note that the new domain, Today.com, drops the longer today.msnbc.msn.com moniker. Some of the links on the page still go to the longer name while others point to moms.today.com, digitallife.today.com, scoop.today.com, bites.today.com, and theclicker.today.com.
I found some issues with the Flash video player. When I moved my mouse quickly into and out of the player, the toolbars appeared and stayed on the screen until I moved my mouse back into the video player more slowly and then exited again. I’m guessing that’s an issue with the animation effect or timers on the mouseover event that doesn’t sense when you exit too quickly. Also, the video stream stops if you use the share function. I didn’t expect it to interrupt my live video experience, which meant I had to manually click the play button to restart it. Later, I found while watching the archived version I could not jump ahead with the scrub bar past any part of the video not loaded into memory yet. I’m spoiled to You Tube-like functionality that lets you jump ahead to any point in the timeline and resume downloading from that spot.
I tried the clip and share button during the live stream and with the archived version, but the editing function was not intuitive. Since I know how to edit non-linear video and had trouble figuring it out, I think the general public would, too. I eventually figured out how to set in and out points, but found no instructions even in the tiny “Help” link at the bottom of the page.
Of course, using Flash means the live video would not play on iPhones or iPads. The mobile version of Today.com provides a totally different, stripped-down experience compared to the new Web page.
I do wonder whether there are any security concerns with doing these backstage tours. That’s a thought I had when the Today show released their “I’ve Got a Feeling” viral video last year. It’s neat to see this space, but now every nut job or terrorist knows the layout from the entrances to the control room, green room and talent offices. I’ve been to the plaza outside the studio and these videos reveal a lot of detail that you can’t see from the street. Perhaps you can see the same thing on the NBC Studio Tour, but it’s an issue that hopefully was at least considered.
The “stream-living” ended rather suddenly with a quick goodbye after about 56 minutes and went to black. A countdown then appeared and the stream was replayed for the central time zone. The entire stream can be seen at http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/26184891/vp/41855379#41855379.