FACEBOOK really wants you to enjoy live video on Facebook. So much so that the company announced a dedicated video space on its mobile app along with several other features today in the hopes that you will watch and broadcast more videos live.
|Facebook Live creative tools / FACEBOOK|
This aggressive push to get you to watch and share live has been in the works for a while. Facebook launched its live video service last year for celebrities and public figures before offering the option of live streaming to regular people, too.
Since then, you’ve had the chance to hang out live as Ricky Gervais took a bath, Tony Hawk skated, Alton Brown cooked, and Lester Holt wandered around during his lunch break. We’ve also seen journalists broadcast from location, astronauts answer questions about space, and star athletes say hello from their locker rooms.
The company’s efforts to get you to watch and broadcast live isn’t arbitrary. With more than 1.5 billion users worldwide, Facebook has a real opportunity to showcase breaking news, intimate personal moments, and behind-the-scenes stories from just about anywhere in a way that surpasses TV networks and challenges incumbents like Periscope. All of which is pretty incredible.
It recognizes that power as well as the financial opportunity it represents. Facebook is an ad-driven business capitalizing on the specialness of being in the moment. Live is, well, live. You have to be there when it happens to really be there (even if you can catch a replay later). For a company like Facebook, which wants you to spend as much of your time as possible on the service so it can show you more ads, there’s no better way to get you to come back and stay than by promising live experiences you won’t get anywhere else. In that way, Facebook wants to be your new, customizable TV, your way into a Super Bowl locker room, your peek behind the scenes at the Oscars, your opportunity to skydive, your very own live Truman Show all while sitting at your desk.
But, most of all, it wants you to keep coming back.
|Facebook Live map / FACEBOOK|
So what’s new? First and foremost, Facebook is rolling out a “dedicated place” where you can search for live and non-live videos as well as choose to broadcast for yourself. You’ll be able to get there by touching a tab in the Facebook app that brings you to a video section away from your News Feed. In addition, Facebook is rolling out a geographic map, so you can see where people are broadcasting live around the world.
Little things can make a big difference. Facebook knows you might not want to broadcast your workout to your entire network. So, while Facebook has previously allowed anyone to “go live” to their friends, you can now broadcast for specific groups and events. And much like Facebook-owned Instagram, the company will let you use “filters” on live broadcasts.
Moreover, Facebook is incorporating its new Reactions (“Like,” “Love,” “Wow,” “Haha, “Sad,” and “Angry”) directly into broadcasts much like Twitter’s Periscope features heart reactions. Those reactions will pop up in the frame during a broadcast, then quickly disappear. “It’s like hearing the crowd applaud and cheer,” Fidji Simo, a Facebook product management director, said in a blog post today.
That’s important, Facebook says, because initial data reveals that viewers comment “more than 10 times more on Facebook Live videos than regular ones.” Part of the fun of live videos, after all, is the real-time interaction be it with questions, opinions, or just getting a chance to tell your favorite musician “Wow.”
Scarcity Is King
For Facebook, Live has its own set of challenges. When Zuckerberg went live today to talk about the new features, his page stalled for some people trying to watch (like me). In another live Q&A on Facebook (where else?) today, Chris Cox, the company’s chief product officer, said that Facebook has more than a hundred people working on Live. He explained that Facebook needs to be able to serve up millions of simultaneous streams without crashing (ahem), including some where perhaps millions are watching, as well as seamless streams across different devices and service providers around the world. (So far, Live has only launched in 60 countries.) “It turns out it’s a really hard infrastructure problem,” Cox said.
So, why is Facebook putting so much energy into live broadcasting? Don’t most people look goofy anyway? For one, video has become central to Facebook. In the past few years, Facebook has increasingly prioritized video in News Feed, and we’ve all dutifully watched. In the past, Zuckerberg has explained it by saying that he believes we’re moving toward more immersive experiences online, and that moving images are more immersive than text.
“It’s a significant investment in a new media type,” says Brian Blau, a longtime personal technologies researcher at Gartner. “It gives users another way to interact with one another, and it gives brands another way to interact with their customers.” In its early days, Facebook didn’t even allow people to post photos. But today, serving up all kinds of media is crucial for the company.
So, live video is the next logical extension of video, but there’s also something crucially special about “live.” It’s an intimate experience, and you have to be there when it happens. If you’re a San Francisco Giants fan, for example, you will be at your TV (or digital stream) when they’re playing. You just will. If you’re a huge Beyoncé fan, you’ll do whatever you can (and pay pretty much whatever you must) to get tickets to see her when she comes to your city on tour.
Facebook wants to create those same kinds of “must-be-present” experiences. “In a digital economy the one thing that is scarce is something that’s live,” says Tim Mulligan, a longtime video analyst for MIDiA Research. “If you have a live streaming event, that’s scarce by its very nature.”
When I stream or you stream (sorry!) we’re probably not going to generate the kind of “must-see hype” Facebook wants, but it reportedly has a plan to get celebrities and media companies in on the live action by paying them. That may hint at the Facebook’s future. Imagine if Facebook one day streams live sports games, live music festivals, or even live Q&As (like Reddit IAmAs) with really interesting people. Imagine, too, the advertising opportunities for companies to, say, sponsor a one-time-only live event or to stream a celebrity spokesperson using their products. Live could become a reason to sign onto Facebook, and Facebook’s hoping it’s another reason to stay.
Facebook Live: Now You Can Never Leave
|This week Mark Zuckerberg announced a new video-streaming service, Facebook Live, the next step in his company’s mission to control every aspect of our digital experience.|
PHOTOGRAPH BY ANDREW HARRER / BLOOMBERG / GETTY