Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Google+ recently added video conferencing capabilities to its platform. Like Skype, you may have used Google+ hangouts to talk to your friends face-to-face for free using your computer. But have you used it to watch your local news?

Google has started rolling out Google+ hangouts On Air to public figures, celebrities and users with large number of followers. Whereas the original Hangouts were limited to groups of ten, with one host and nine participants, the new version allows everyone beyond the participating group to watch the hangout as a YouTube live stream. The host can broadcast the session to specific Google+ Circles or to the public on Google+.
Television stations love it because it’s basically a broadcast tower in the middle of a social network. Plenty of news organizations have tried it, from the Reynolds Journalism Institute to the BBC, and are reporting that it helps them interact with viewers beyond the one-way confines of the television set, making them more visible in the community.

“Basically in Missouri, we wear two ear pieces,” wrote KOMU’s Sarah Hill via email. “One to hear the producer. The other to interact with our audience in a live Google Plus Hangout.”

Hill was the anchor of a newscast that was originally designed to fill the void left by the “Oprah” show. Earlier this month, the show was rebranded as “U_News” and moved to 9 a.m. Wrote Hill in a blog post:
“News Buoys” as I call them need to float on multiple platforms and share their content.
Sure, we’re still anchored to the seabed of our TV station but much like a buoy, we are letting passing ships know where to find us. And if you think I’m making the analogy that TV stations are sinking ships, I’m not. You should know there’s a lot of buried treasure on the sea floor. And with Hangouts, we’re trying to help people rediscover us.
The format also changes the way the reporters engage their audiences on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ hangouts. Hill told our sister blog, TVSpy, “No longer do we have to just butt together soundbites. We have people in the same space to discuss issues as a group. Viewers don’t just want a news anchor sitting behind a desk shouting headlines. Viewers want to be a part of the conversation.”

As the 2012 presidential election coverage picks up speed, getting the community involved in the news will be especially significant. The White House already ranks among the early adopters of Google+ hangouts On Air. On Monday, January 30th, President Obama will host a 45-minute hangout in which he will appear on a live video to answer pre-selected questions in response to his State of the Union address. (Imagine if President Franklin D. Roosevelt had been around for Google+ hangouts. Those would have been some interesting “fireside chats.”)