Why Kickstarter Projects May Not Benefit From Live Video Pitches

You can interact, in real time, with the projects you want to back.

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Nov 9 2016, 1:00pm

A screengrab of a live Kickstarter.

Last week, Kickstarter launched a brand new feature to its platform. It's a livestream option called Kickstarter Live that allows creators to interact directly, in real time, with their current and potential backers. The program has already been beta tested, and its users have hosted cooking workshops, Q&A's with potential backers, and demos of product prototypes. These live-action segments are publicized in advance; Kickstarter adds a countdown clocks to upcoming feeds, which creates an atmosphere of celebratory, shared anticipation.

A selection of live Kickstarter broadcasts

It's ironic—that there could be intimacy in a venture that requires the faceless input of thousands of people—but that's the nature of patronage, from Pope Julius II's patronage of Michelangelo, to the more recent success of the Oculus Rift. The psychological rewards of patronage are numerous. A creator gets to pursue an idea that he could not fund on his own, and he owes gratitude to an audience that has put its faith in him. Meanwhile, a backer receives the gratification of being involved in something larger than herself. She can also derive second-hand pleasure in seeing another person's success—success that she was partially responsible for.

The new Kickstarter livestream breeds further emotional investment and gratification. The worn cliche about technology is that it places degrees of separation between people, disrupting meaningful interactions. And perhaps with television, a one-way, passive medium, this has more validity. But livestreaming, used to its fullest extent, is a two-way street. Backers can ask questions, make comments and suggestions, and post selfies. They can select rewards and pledge money.

Singing in a live Kickstarter

But even though the positive returns on a livestream could be tremendous, a creator who is not well-versed with visual language might not see those benefits and could potentially do harm to his campaign. Motherboard spoke with television producer and video journalist Michael Rosenblum, who has trained video journalists at both the New York Times and the BBC, to gain some insight.

"Livestream is a new technology that everybody is glomming onto—Facebook more than anyone else," says Rosenblum. "YouTube does it. Everyone does it. And the fact that you can go live is quite remarkable. But what does it do for Kickstarter? I'm not really sure."

Rosenblum does see one interesting possibility. If the creator comes to the table with an idea, but is amenable to change via crowd feedback—"shifting the locus of one's interest based on the feedback one gets"—then that's a good incentive for additional investors to come aboard. In a way, this resembles a movie studio's use of focus groups, where a preview audience offers its opinion on a movie, and the director recuts the movie or films additional scenes based upon feedback.

Answering Q&A during a live Kickstarter

But on the whole, Rosenblum remains skeptical about combining livestreaming and crowdfunding for two main reasons. The first reason, as stated prior, is that it takes time, work, and experience to create a livestreaming experience that is visually and aurally appealing. And done improperly, a livestream could make a project look cheap or poorly planned, even if it is not.

"There's a certain expectation of production value, even for Kickstarter," says Rosenblum. "And if you don't deliver, then people are less inclined to open their checkbooks. The video has to be pretty slick. In the old days, you could get away from that, but I think we're well beyond that now."

The second obstacle is finding an audience to watch the livestream, in large enough numbers that it would make a significant impact? People can watch the livestream in archive, but that harkens back to the more passive medium of television

"The point [of Kickstarter] is to aggregate over time, and accumulate investments from people who commit money to it," points out Rosenblum. "The thing about livestream is that it happens once, and it's over."

But if the creator is A) Well-versed in visual language, and B) A tireless, creative promoter who is able to aggregate an audience for his or her special events, then a livestream could be an excellent component to a Kickstarter. But ultimately, this new livestream might only be that—a component, and not the main thrust to any well-organized, money-raising campaign.