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Why Facebook Is Tentatively Expanding Live Video Streaming

Photo of Tim Mulligan
by Tim Mulligan

Facebook announced today that it was expanding the functionality of its Live feature, enabling non-celebrities for the first time to broadcast live video to groups and respondents to events. Alongside this significant development, a new video tab has been created for the Facebook mobile app placing video discovery at the centre of the user experience for smartphone users. Both developments underline the growing importance of video to the Facebook growth story.

Why Facebook Needs User Generated Video

Since Facebook’s decision to prioritize videos appearing in users’ newsfeeds, there has been an explosion of video consumption on the world’s largest social network. 2015 alone saw a tripling of video views, with a third of users watching video on a daily basis. With the growth in smart phone penetration and increasingly generous and affordable mobile data packages coming onto the market, the technology and pricing has now caught up with the public’s desire to consume video on mobile phones. Mobile video consumption is now cannibalizing staring out of windows for the mainstream consumer.

Placing video at the forefront of the users experience is a continuation of Facebook’s highly successful business model of selling advertising on the back of user generated content. Initially Facebook displaced Flickr to become the world’s largest photo sharing site, and now for video it has YouTube firmly in its sight. It’s ability to succeed in displacing YouTube is however dependent upon increasing its output of both compelling content and increased audience engagement. YouTube’s single largest video generation category are the site’s native content creators, such as Ray William Johnson and Bethany Motta. Their weekly, and sometimes daily video output is now being enhanced through the imminent launch of its Connect app which will facilitate live streaming creation and discovery for content creators and their fans.

In trying to compete against YouTube for video advertising revenues, Facebook has made itself inherently less appealing by enabling the auto play feature on videos and counting as one video view a video which  plays for 3 seconds. In comparison, YouTube only counts a video view after 30 seconds of being played (without autoplay being the default setting.)   As the Facebook videos are set to play on mute, un-muting of videos by viewers is the only accurate way of measuring audience engagement. A consumer survey conducted by MIDiA Research revealed that only 11% of the survey group regularly unmuted videos on Facebook. Expanding the use of live video streaming therefore both increases the opportunities for native content creators to build audiences on Facebook (users can now invite friends to view a live broadcast) and also increases the probability that a user will unmute a video and actively engage with it. After all, the only scarce commodity in the digital economy is live content. This has been dramatically born out by the growth in live music in stark contrast to the fortunes of the recorded music market.

Live Video Streaming Is Destined To Remain Niche

Facebook has been smart in choosing to be selective as to who can use the new streaming feature (currently only available to groups and events respondents), in line with its recent recruitment of celebrities for streaming through Live. User generated broadcast is a tricky medium to excel in and inherently favours broadcast TV professionals, who both know how to present to the small screen, and have something worth sharing with their audiences. The user only gets one shot with live, unlike with creating the optimal selfies for social media consumption. Therefore streaming to groups and event RSVPers is a way to engage with known friendly audiences, by initially using the functionality as a skype-like video communication tool.

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