Live vs Pre-Recorded Content for a Happily Virtual Event

This may be like a magician revealing their magic tricks, however, the truth is that not all virtual events that appear to be happening live, are actually happening live...

We’re exploring the differences and benefits of having live and/or pre-recorded content for a virtual event.

We’ll also reveal a few basic ways that Happily uses some production magic to prevent an audience from knowing if the content they are experiencing during a virtual event is live or pre-recorded.

Happily events Live vs Pre-Recorded

What is live content?

Live content is filmed and broadcasted simultaneously during the virtual event.

Meaning there is no notable delay between when the content has been recorded, to when the viewers are experiencing it during the live broadcast. This can result in video content that appears more raw, organic, responsive to the audience, and ‘in the moment’.

What are the benefits of live content?

Direct interaction and engagement with the audience

The best benefit of live content is the ability to instantaneously interact with the viewers and attendees during the broadcast.

There may be elements to a virtual event where being live is essential; such as a live fundraiser, a Q&A session that has audience participation, a press conference, or breakout sessions and workshops in Zoom.

More generally, being live would allow the emcee to casually acknowledge comments from attendees in the chat, or to give attendees a little shout-out. All these little moments will craft a deeper connection with the audience, confirming to the viewer that the person on the side of the screen is not a recording and that they are experiencing the moment together.

More budget-friendly

Due to the added resources of pre-recorded content, a virtual event that is curated with raw and uncomplicated live content can, in general, be produced at a lower cost. This will depend on the scope and scale of the virtual event, of course.

Shorter runway

At Happily, our teams pride themselves on that short runaway hustle, and no matter the complexity of the event or production, we know how to realistically bring together an entire event within the timeframe the client needs and within the brief.

That being said, pre-recorded content can take longer to produce than live content. For example, if an event has one pre-recorded item and 5 items that are live content, it can generally be pushed out quicker, than an event that has multiple pre-recorded videos that need to be filmed, edited, and polished ahead of time. If an event needs to come together in a few days, rather than a few weeks or months, then live content may be a more suitable option.

Panel Discussion GIF from BEAM

GIF: BEAM's Black Healing Remixed: The Summit. Find the full case study here.

What is pre-recorded content?

Pre-recorded content for a virtual event means that the video or segment was recorded, edited, and finalized prior to the livestreamed broadcast.

That pre-recorded material can then be incorporated into the run of show and be played during the livestream for the online audience. Some common examples of pre-recorded content could be; an interview, a video message, a branded video, or a tour. Check out this blog for ideas for pre-recorded content.

What are the benefits of pre-recorded content?

Edit and retake until it is just right

Shooting multiple takes and maximizing the editing process to build content allows you to alter, refine and add details to the video until you are satisfied. You can also be comforted knowing that as you see the content now, is exactly how it will appear during the livestream. This is in contrast with livestreamed content, which gets fewer edits, or no re-takes, and you won’t have as much control over the final result.

High-quality video production

With the added benefit of more time to craft a final result, you are able to bring in a professional editing process that will instantly level up the video content. Depending on the budget, this could mean a film crew capturing professional footage and interviews, and then taking full advantage of the editing process to polish and curate.

With pre-recording you are able to bring in Video Editors to make every video shine. This is compared to live content, in which it is up to the fast fingers of the Streaming Engineer to do any basic adjustments possible to the content.

Greater scheduling appeal to potential presenters and keynote speakers

Pre-recording material allows flexibility across the schedules of potential presenters and opens up the possibility of speakers in different time zones. A presenter may be more likely to agree to appear in your virtual event if you give them the option to record something that fits in their schedule, rather than asking them if they are free at a specific time and on a specific day for a live broadcast.

This also includes international presenters who would not be able to attend the livestream, as the broadcast would happen at an inconvenient time in their timezone, eg. the middle of the night.

People and presenters can look and sound their best

Making sure that everyone appears comfortable, articulate, and shining during the event is important when creating engaging content. This could include bringing in a film crew, for professional lighting, audio, set design, multiple angles ect. Or even if it is recorded on their computer in their home office or an interview over Zoom, the footage and audio can be enhanced in the editing process.

Also, moments or parts can be cut and trimmed by a Video Editor to keep the content or conversation focused, and engaging.

Flaunt more of your organization or brand

You will have the opportunity to create content that focuses on various types of topics or subjects, that would not be so easily accessible through live content. For example, a tour of a site, or a showcase of a project or program.

Less stress on the day

If the entire event is pre-recorded, or if only some content is, by having items already done, finalized and ready for the broadcast, can mean less anxiety on the day of the broadcast.

Behind the scenes on the day of any event includes lot of activity, and organizing, wrangling talent, and generally rushing around to ensure that everything lines up seamlessly for the broadcast. Pre-recording can relieve some of that stress, and take away some uncertainty in the final result.


GIF: Young Survival Coalition’s 2021 YSC Summit: Digitally Yours. Find the full case study here.

But, wait. Won’t the audience know if a whole virtual event isn’t 100% live??

The answer at Happily is; the audience will not be able to spot the difference between pre-recorded and live content if you don’t want them to.

It’s not so easy to generalize virtual events, because every single one is unique, with different goals, scopes, complexities, budgets, and requirements. However, many virtual events will contain at least one pre-recorded video, due to the benefits as summarized above. Other virtual events may be entirely pre-recorded, and some may be completely live without any pre-recorded content.

Sometimes it will be obvious that an item of content is pre-recorded amongst a live event. Maybe cause it clearly standouts with a higher production quality compared to the rest. Or maybe simply because it is mentioned by a live emcee; for example, “We are now going to watch a chat I had with _______ earlier this week…

However, if you specifically want the audience to not even be questioning whether or not the content is live, that is absolutely possible with Happily. The main way to achieve this is by ensuring a level of consistency across all the content. This can generally be achieved with scripting, branding, and filming processes.

A basic script for the event will allow content to be threaded closer together.

For example, if one speaker refers to a previous or upcoming speaker, or if they thank the emcee for introducing them, ect. A detailed predetermined Happily ROS (run of show) will allow for these moments to be curated.

Having standardized branding and graphic design across all the content will also create a sense of cohesion and unity.

For example, banners to frame the broadcast, lower thirds to display speakers' names and titles, and motion graphic transitions to move from one item to another. This will all craft that final cohesive experience.

Finally, a consistent filming process can also play a role in blurring the lines between live and pre-recorded content.

As an example, with the ST Developers Conference 2021 that Happily produced, nearly 50% of the content was pre-recorded, and the remaining was live. The virtual summit was filled with over 30 presentations across two days, from two concurrent Happily broadcast studios, and included 12 pre-records from remote locations. However, all the content was filmed with a green screen, allowing our editors and designers to create a final result that was a cohesive experience across the summit for the attendees.

Video: ST Developers Conference 2021 Sizzle Reel. Read full case study here.