ramblings from the hive mind

Live on air

26 May 2013 | View comments
Damien Austin-Walker

Google+ Hangouts Live on Air to YouTube

Google hangouts are often quoted as one of the killer features of Google Plus. I use hangouts for meeting and catching up with remote teams. I wanted to try using hangouts to engage with bigger audiences, via the Hangouts on Air integration with YouTube.

I was inspired by Top Shop’s Fashion week and Cadburys who have both used hangouts on air.

To give it a go we decided to hold a backstage hangout at our annual National Awards Ceromony. Our presenters @thatmarita and @lukeharris, cherry-picked from our staff and Youth Advisory Board, chatted to award winners and the performers on a sofa after they came off stage. We broke up the chat with videos of the finalists and winners that were being shown on stage between each award.

We hoped to:
Extend the reach of our National awards ceremony for young volunteers
Increase conversations about the awards on social media
Give VIP participants an exclusive experience and make them feel loved
Give the friends and family of nominees and winners a chance to be there


You can never test enough. We did one test of our initial kit of laptop, webcam and usb microphone at a small event. Everything worked fine when we set up. An hour or two later when the event started, the number of people now using the wireless slowed our connection down. We managed to stream - but we had issues with the picture cutting out or freezing.

We decided we would need a dedicated internet connection with as much bandwidth as we could get. A better microphone. And most importantly not to be shy and to get the camera right up close.

The Kit



For our National Awards event we had secured a position at the back of the press bar. Thinking the light levels in the bar would not be sufficient we purchased these lights. However on testing at the venue we discovered the lights overlit the show and left the image looking washed out. The fluorescent lighting in the bar turned out to be plenty sufficient for the HD webcam to give a decent image.

On this occasion we didn’t need the lights. But I am glad I now have them as I suspect they will come in use in a different environment.


Microsoft HD LifeCam - I have tried many webcams but this one is great.


We knew there would be background noise to contend with in the bar. We needed to be able to hear the two presenters and the guests joining them to chat. The microphone is great on my desktop computer but would be too far away and struggle amid the background noise. I couldn’t find an easy way to connect two USB microphones to one source so we settled for two loaned professional mics and a mini mixing desk. The mixing desk was connected via an external USB sound card our laptop.

I bought this Edirol UA-1EX external USB sound card a few years ago to record my vinyl records to digtial files (FLACs and MP3s). It’s not expensive, has great sound quality and can link analogue mics to a digital input. We plugged the mixing desk into this soundcard using a 7mm jack.


The most important part was the show. To avoid awkward silences with nothing to say, the presenters developed a script for the show. The script was built around the timings for the awards and performances, interviewing the winners and artists as they came off stage. Ensuring the hangout was included in contracts and agreements with the artists (and their management) was essential, and that the team member dealing with this was on board. The production line was: on stage - press shoot - hangout. The presenters also had a game prepared to fill any unplanned gaps - “beat the volunteer” (it involves maltesers and a straw - no volunteers were harmed in the process)


We originally thought we might stream live footage of the awards presentations and the performances, however technical and legal issues led us to rule this out. We would have needed to lay 30 metres of cable plus ensure we had the right connectors for the professional camera equipment. We couldn’t test this as would only meet the camera person on the day. Sorting out broadcast rights was something else we didn’t have the time or money to arrange in time. Instead, we decided to give our audience the feel of attending the awards by interspersing the show with the pre-recorded finalist and winner videos that were also being played on the screens above the stage.

We couldn’t use the screen sharing facility in Hangouts to play the pre-recorded videos - this only shares the image and not the audio. YouTube recommend using Wirecast streaming software. YouTube Non profit partners can download Wirecast for free from within your YouTube account. Wirecast allowed us to cleanly cut between the live show and the pre-prepared videos and fade audio in and out. It also allowed us to easily overlay text over the video so we could switch between different messages such as our Twitter hashtag, FaceBook account or a link to donate.

Unfortunately the streaming software prevents you having hangout participants. It was a hard decision to decide between hangout participants and pre-recorded videos. The show was an opportunity for friends and family of the award nominees to experience the awards, so we chose the videos.

The show includes all the winning volunteers, Goldirocks, Mischa B and The Saturdays, who it turned out were number one in the charts that week.


We promoted the event on social media, blogs and email before, during and after the show.


The Crew:
Marita @thatmarita - Presenter and script development (inc the malteaser challenge)
Luke Harris @LukeHarris - Presenter and awesome champion
Cem @myscriptquotes - video, production and tech
Lea @learice - promotion and social
Jones @Tr4pSt3R

The Talent:
The volunteers
Goldierocks - for hiding on the sofa so we mistook her for a volunteer
Eddie Kadi
Pandemonium Drummers
The Saturdays
Will Best
The Risk
Olympic Gamesmakers
Mischa B

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