The Stream – The analysis of a social connected TV show
by Manon Perroud et Mathilde Prat , published on 31.05.2011
Al Jazeera English, the international information channel of the Al Jazeera group, was created in 2006 as a similar concept to CNN International and BBC World. The channel’s editorial policy is to be a forerunner in terms of innovations for information technologies and intends to use this advantage to compete against other international media providers.
With its new program The Stream, launched on May 2nd of last year on television, and before that on their website, the channel has again demonstrated its avant-guard character by bringing the experience of social media to a TV audience.
After the events of the “Arab Spring” and the scandal of Wikileaks, social media have become a keystone of political mobilization, making a place for themselves in mass media, including television.
The concept of The Stream rests on the participation of audiences through the Web. It’s composed of a daily TV show presented by two American journalists: Derrick Ashong and Ahmed Shihab-eldin, in 3x30min sequences (5 days out of 7 at 10h30, 16h30 and 21h30) and a website gathering all non-professional information, which integrates all main social media (Twitter, Facebook, Ustream, Skype). The goal is to treat information from a “civilian-journalistic” perspective.
In fact, The Stream gives everyone the possibility of producing content, giving their opinion, sharing their feelings and their experiences about the daily news. The internet users can react on their site, or .
It’s a remediation process of traditional media: instead of having TV feeding content to the Web, the Web is feeding content to the TV show.
During the broadcast of the TV show, a Storify, retracing the key points of the theme discussed, is published on the website. It consolidates the tweets, photos and Facebook comments that allowed to illustrate the subject on set.
On TV, the daily show
Each of the three shows, each day, takes up the theme of a hot new topic that’s already discussed on the web: “The Stories”. The debate is launched and we witness 30 minutes of interaction between presenters and internet users interacting live. The show is built under our eyes directly from the broadcasting studio, which is also the newsroom. The screens are omnipresent on the set, each presenter, playing his role as a moderator, has his computer and the Twitter flow projected on a giant wall. There can also sometimes be Skype interviews.
On the Web
The Stream website is hosted on the Al Jazeera English website and offers the possibility of watching previous shows, accessing different information flows for each theme with Storify (updated when the news require it) and displays the different sources (videos on YouTube, comments on Facebook, Tweets…). This presence centralizes discussions and also encourages interactions between the different followers.
With the recurrent innovations in social media and the Web in general, we can imagine that The Stream will develop and gain new tools, exponentially increasing its presence on social networks. Since the concept of the show is based on Web participation, The Stream will have to be able to follow technological evolutions and renew itself if necessary.
With its original concept for The Stream, Al Jazeera English is giving its big competitors CNN and BBC a run for their money, by offering a real international civilian journalistic show. They give a real legitimacy to all these information sources that escape traditional media circuits, criticized by the latter but increasingly favored by audiences that have lost their trust in mass media: too expensive, too institutionalized, too politic, too corrupted…
By defining themselves as a social media with information sources coming from the web, The Stream doesn’t pay for the content it broadcasts. This gives the website the advantage of not being scattered with advertising like most information media, be it free or not. Video contents are posted for free on The Stream’s website, making the show innovative as an entirely free information source, not sponsored by advertizing. Once more, this is only possible thanks to the Web and the information goldmine that it represents, as well as audience participation through social networks, that bring The Stream to life, both on TV and on the Web.
By allowing audiences to be real content producers, which they can edit thanks to their daily communication tools, The Stream is different from a classic talk show through the freedom and flexibility of its editorial line. Each show is unpredictable, just like the audiences’ reactions.
However, isn’t there a limit to this participative element? Indeed, how can one be sure of the information delivered through these channels? The main problem with web-based information is the identification of the source’s legitimacy.
But since The Stream gives voice to everyday people who don’t have this legitimacy in the world of media and information, one can wonder which sources will be privileged and debated on the set? Is it really a place where everyone can express their feelings and their experiences?
Moreover, giving voice to “everyone” also implies some abuses. Insults, lies, unconstructive criticism, identity theft, release of secret information, must also be taken into account in this type of relations between the show and its audience. The role of the journalists is therefore very important, they are the community managers that animate this community of civilian journalists, and that choose to talk about a tweet over another, or which video to publish.
Under the guise of a free radio system, encouraging freedom of speech by everyone and for everyone, The Stream is still managed by journalists that embody the identity of the show and of the channel throughout the world.
The Stream’s team will also have to create a system to sort the different content and direct its editors towards the subjects that they’re tackling in order to avoid flow saturation.
The Stream offers an opportunity to break from the traditional pattern of bringing television into people’s houses: here, people are easily allowed to bring their contribution to television with the tools that they use on a daily basis. At the same time, the editorial policy of the channel and its reputation are embodied by the journalists and the choices they make during the live program.
Since its creation (early May), The Stream has already built a community of 2971 fans on Facebook and 4391 followers on Twitter, we can therefore talk about a success for this “participative” show. It has already allowed Al Jazeera to recruit new, younger, more international and more “connected” audiences.
With this concept that rests mostly on the democratization of media and the democratization of the Arab world, as it’s undergoing a sweeping revolution, we have the right to believe that television channels will increasingly give voice to their audiences through social networks, and therefore open the way for Social TV.
About the authors
Manon Perroud and Mathilde Prat have both followed studies specialized in audiovisual production. Convinced that media convergence will open new opportunities for the creation of multi-media content, they have recently joined Julien Aubert at Bigger than fiction, to counsel companies who want to set up transmedia strategies.