Sometimes you make your customers happy by setting the right expectations.
On YouTube, I recently watched an amateurish video of the band Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros onstage at Coachella, which the band impulsively created by borrowing a fan’s GoPro camera.
I loved it.
The same day, I viewed a slick, 360-degree video live stream of several bands performing at the same event, which was produced by Coachella and YouTube.
I hated it.
Why did a muddy video of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros capture my interest, while hours of footage professionally curated by Coachella and YouTube annoy me? The answer is simple: I had low expectations of the former, and high expectations of the latter thanks to the way Coachella and YouTube hyped the experience they jointly created.
The Coachella Live Stream in Context
A little context is in order.
For years, the Coachella music festival has partnered with YouTube to set the gold standard with event live streams largely because the onsite camera crews make you feel like you’re right on stage with the artists. For instance, during the first weekend of Coachella this year (April 15–17), the live streams of Ice Cube, Grimes, and the 1975 gave me close-up angles like these:
It felt like the artists were singing in my living room 2,000 miles away from the festival, as these screen shots taken from my iPhone demonstrate.
So imagine my excitement when YouTube announced on April 18 that it was going to unveil 360-degree live streaming during the second weekend of Coachella (April 22–23).
As YouTube crowed on its blog,
We first launched support for 360-degree videos back in March 2015. From musicians to athletes to brands, creators have done some incredible things with this technology. Now, they’ll be able to do even more to bring fans directly into their world, with 360-degree live streaming. And after years of live streaming Coachella for fans around the world who can’t attend the festival, this year we’re bringing you the festival like never before by live streaming select artist performances in 360 degrees this weekend.
Unfortunately, the actual 360-degree live stream did not performed as advertised.
To be sure, the live stream functioned properly. With a swipe of a screen on my mobile phone or by using an arrow tab on my laptop, I could watch the artist or slowly pan the stage and even see the crowd from the performer’s vantage point.
But two major problems marred the live stream.
First, I couldn’t get those awesome close-ups of the artists themselves that I was accustomed to enjoying in the past. I was at the mercy of a stationary camera situated at the lip of the stage, which resulted in a decent, but less interesting view, as this image of Gary Clark Jr. shows:
The only way to get a great view was to hope for the artist to step out to the lip of the stage (which, thankfully, Run the Jewels did).
Second, the ability to change vantage points got boring after about 1 minute. The ground in front of the stage really wasn’t very interesting unless I wanted to look at equipment. As for the views of the audience: if you’ve seen one sea of heads and arms, you’ve seen ’em all:
I give Coachella and YouTube props for pushing the boundaries of the live stream experience, and I appreciate that we’re in a test-and-learn phase. But it’s one thing to test and learn with a small audience sample — quite another to test and learn in prime time, especially after you’ve set expectations for a great experience. The 360-degree experience was actually a step backward, namely because I lost that you-are-there experience that came with those astonishing camera angles of the artists. Coachella and YouTube advertised something that was just not ready for public viewing, to the detriment of their brands.
The Joy of Amateur Footage
Which brings us to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. I had read on Uproxx that the band used a fan’s GoPro to give everyone at Coachella an unexpected on-stage experience. The article made it clear that the band had acted on the spur of the moment — so when I clicked on the YouTube footage, I wasn’t exactly expecting professional-quality footage.
The little snippet, lasting less than 2 minutes, was just the kind of interesting, you-are-there perspective that I used to get from Coachella and YouTube. The moment was fresh, it was funny, and, by the way, it made me want to learn more about Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Leave it to a fan and a band to fill the breach.
What Would I Have Done Differently?
I was not alone in voicing my disappointment with the 360-degree live stream. I noticed many viewers going to social media (especially Twitter) to express their dismay. And yet, Coachella and YouTube probably could have gotten away with a less-than-stellar experience had they managed our expectations. Here’s what I would have done differently:
- Set up a special channel for the 360-degree live stream.
- Explain that the 360-degree channel was experimental. Invite viewers to share feedback on the special channel so that we all feel like we’re part of a virtual focus group, involved in helping make the product better.
- Keep the traditional live stream we were accustomed to enjoying so that we don’t feel like we’re having the run pulled from beneath us.
The 360-degree live stream holds great potential to provide a more immersive, exciting experience. I am still excited about what comes next.
Your brand is no better than the experience you provide. And if you advertise a great experience, you had better deliver.