From YouNow and Twitch to Periscope and Meerkat, live streaming is the latest rage with Gen Z and young millennials, but it’s old hat to The Young Turks.
The progressive news organization did its first live stream via the now-obsolete Windows Media Encoder back in 2005, and it has turned to the format repeatedly over the years, from a 99-hour non-stop broadcast urging the Democrats to filibuster Samuel A. Alito Jr.’s nomination to the Supreme Court in 2006 to telethon-like efforts promoting its 2013 Indiegogo campaign that raised $404K to fund its new studio space.
Today, TYT is celebrating its 10 years of live streaming with — what else? — a 10-hour live stream. Available on a wide variety of digital platforms (YouTube, Facebook Live, Periscope, Roku, Firetalk, YouNow), the broadcast features TYT founder Cenk Uygur, along with personalities from its various channels, including Nerd Alert, Pop Trigger and Think Tank, as well as return visits from former TYT hosts.
In those 10 years, TYT has grown from 25 viewers to a 24/7 network with more than a dozen channels that have 3 billion lifetime views and 2.3 million subscribers on YouTube alone.
Along the way, Uygur has learned a lot about what it takes to pull off a successful live online broadcast, and number one on the list is the ability to wing it. In other words, teleprompters are verboten.
“Ninety-nine percent of what we do is prompter-less,” Uygur told VideoInk. “The reason for that is you want to connect with the audience. You want to look them in the eye and tell them a story in a human way with pauses and some repetition and some mistakes. Viscerally, people connect with that right away. Now, you go tell CNN to go prompter-less, see what happens. They’re not going to do it. They can’t do it.”
Uygur knows of what he speaks. He never worked for CNN, but he did a six-month stint with its cable competitor hosting “MSNBC Live,” then transitioned to Current TV, where his show “The Young Turks with Cenk Uygur” ran from 2011 to 2013.
When it comes to regrets, Uygur has a few.
“On MSNBC, I was told to be more buttoned-up stylistically, and I listened to that,” he said. “I wore a tie, I used the prompter. They said keep your hands within the box. They’re paying me, it’s their platform, so I did that as much as they wanted me to do.”
On Current TV, Uygur was able to ditch the prompter for the most part, but he still feels he erred on the side of formality.
“If we had five segments, we had to get to all five segments. It’s actually not the right plan,” Uygur said. “You plan out six segments, and if you get to three and you kill those three, great. But I still had this thing in the back of my head that, hey, you’re on TV, you’ve got to be a little bit more serious. With The Young Turks [online], I’ll come in with an insane intro like, ‘We have a great show for you today, blah-blah-blah-blah.’ I’m almost speaking in tongues, because I’m excited and I’m having fun. I would’ve never come into the Current TV show that way because they would’ve been like, wait, what is he doing? Is this professional? You’ve got to realize and now I realize, professional is just whatever gets the audience.”
The Young Turks have been getting more professional in their own way. Their Culver City headquarters purchased with their Indiegogo booty — formerly home to the home of a wine bar — has a pair of broadcast studios that have been built out over their two years of occupancy, with refinements such as the addition of insulation to the ceiling.
Before that, “when it rained it sounded on-air like it was constant thunderous applause,” Uygur said.
Perception of TYT’s importance has also changed dramatically, both with the public and within the industry.
“If ten years ago, seven years ago, five years ago, you said, ‘I’m on YouTube,’ you’d kind of get an ‘Ooh, sorry about that,’ like, ‘You’ll make it one day,’” said Uygur, who started TYT as a radio show in 2002. “You were ‘Wayne’s World’ in your mom’s basement. Now, you’re the cool indie band — for the industry. For the public, you’re already The Beatles. So in a couple of years the industry will catch up with the public and they’ll be like, ‘Oh, my God! Did you know how popular these guys are?!’ Yeah, we’ve been saying that for quite some time.”