The events of the last week have been saddening on so many levels. Two police shootings, protests, and then revenge attacks which have left another five people dead, all of which are both frightening and frustrating in equal measure. And while such incidents raise questions about who we are and our societal values more widely, the other narrative of these most recent events has been the rise in citizen correspondents, of how everyday people are becoming our window to the wider world - and what this means for news consumption more broadly.
But before anything further, I do want express my deepest condolences and sympathies for the families of all involved in these tragic events. While representative of wider debates and discussions, it's important to acknowledge the very real, human impact of each of these incidents. This is a pain no one should ever have to experience and it's saddening to see it happen time and time again.
The Live Shift
As noted by several commentators on Twitter:
Facebook Live video has completely changed media forever and it's done it in less than 3 days.- Stephen Miller (@redsteeze) July 8, 2016
CNN is only showing Facebook Live video. Facebook has become a TV broadcast network virtually overnight.- Scott Austin (@ScottMAustin) July 8, 2016
July 7, 2016
Live-streaming, of course, has been around for a long time, but the introduction of newer streaming tools like Meerkat and Periscope have made it more readily available than ever. This new wave of live-stream tools, coupled with improved network technology, make it possible for anyone to "go live" anytime, which is a significant change to the functionality of the offering.
But Facebook Live has taken that to another level. Why is Facebook so different? By sheer audience size alone, Facebook Live content has the potential to reach many, many more viewers. For comparison, Periscope, through Twitter, could potentially reach that platform's 136 million daily active users - Facebook's daily active user count is 1.09 billion. Now, of course, no one's ever going to reach every single one of those DAUs, but the relative user activity counts underline why Facebook Live is so much different, why many see Facebook's streaming option as having much more potential.
The counter argument here is that Facebook's algorithm restricts reach, which makes that less of a factor, which is true, but Facebook's also actively working to boost Live content. Earlier this week, journalism research group Poynter reported that their Facebook Live videos are generating way more reach than their regular Facebook posts, despite those Live videos not attracting anywhere near as much user engagement.
In addition to this, a new report from BuzzSumo found that video is outperforming all other content on Facebook by a significant margin - while total shares of link posts and photos are on the decline, video content is trending in the opposite direction.
It's clear that Facebook is actively pushing video content, Live content in particular, and this is what makes Facebook Live such a game-changer in the media space, and why the offering has become so important. It's not simply that live-streaming exists - as noted, we've had access to live-streaming tools for some time - it's Facebook's reach potential and emphasis on Live that's changed the game.
Yet even with that emphasis, it's unlikely that Facebook has fully understood the ramifications and impact that their Live focus could have in such events. Indeed, reports have suggested that The Social Network is now grappling with how they should handle such incidents, revising their community guidelines and procedures for how they handle such content. Even CEO Mark Zuckerberg has made a statement on the latest happenings and the related implications of live-streaming.
Such challenges aside, these latest events have pushed live-streaming into the spotlight, and have raised it as a new, significant consideration in how we consume news.
And as a result, you can expect the offering to evolve very quickly to capitalize on its newfound utility.
So what does this new emphasis on live content mean for live-streaming? It's about to become way more important, a significantly bigger part of how you consume news and information.
Live-streaming platforms have already been pushing to make headway into the mainstream, with Twitter's upcoming broadcast deal with the NFL leading the pack.
(Twitter's testing out their new sports broadcasting option at Wimbledon)
Facebook too has reportedly handed out more than 140 contracts to different celebrities to have them broadcast exclusively on Facebook Live, deals which will see The Social Network pay these creators more than $50 million collectively.
And while content is a crucial consideration, the other key element that both Facebook and Twitter are yet to tackle is the mode of consumption - despite the rise of online mediums as broadcast platforms, the fact remains that people still enjoy consuming video content, especially live events, on TV screens.
(This chart from the latest Mary Meeker Internet Trends Report shows TV is still out in front in terms of time spent)
Yes, more people are watching more video on tablets and phones, but we have established rituals around TV consumption - the very houses in which we live are constructed around TV as an entertainment source and many of our social interactions are devised with TV viewing in mind.
While the dynamic is shifting, TV is still a crucial platform, and for any medium looking to unseat it, they'll need to factor this in and cater to our existing habits and behaviours.
Live-streaming providers are working to address this - Periscope announced the release of their Apple TV app last October.
Which is interesting, through functionally somewhat limited - users have little control over the content shown, other than being able to switch from one stream to the next.
YouTube, which is now moving into live-streaming as well, already has its own app which can easily be accessed via Xbox and PlayStation networks and could be used to deliver live, platform-originated content direct to your TV.
Facebook's TV integration is still in the works, though this patent, which was filed late last year, outlines how Facebook could be effectively connected direct to your TV.
And while the design of this process is more geared around enabling Facebook conversations during live events, it's not hard to imagine that Facebook could use the same functionality to alert users to live content, then switch to that content and display it on your TV within one click.
But here's the thing - all of the platforms looking to capitalize on the renewed interest in live-streaming are working to develop ways to stream that content direct to your TV screens, which could potentially be the biggest shift in media consumption we've seen since the introduction of television itself.
Now that may seem hyperbolic, but consider this - when you were watching the coverage of the Dallas incident this week, what footage were you seeing on your TV screen? Virtually all of it was Facebook Live footage.
When the recent House of Representatives protest was in progress, C-SPAN - a TV network - was broadcasting Periscope footage directly.
Once you're able to access the live-streaming video of such events easily, able to switch across to them like you would any other channel, will you even need to watch regular TV coverage? And if you're already switching to live streams to watch news, why not a new live show from your favourite celebrity chef or a live interview with your favourite sports star?
You're already consuming purely live-stream originated content anyway - the argument over whether it can be used as a genuine alternative source has already been settled. Now, it's just a matter of how long it takes for such content to be easily accessible via your TV remote.
And believe me, that won't take long.
So what does this mean for the future of media consumption? Really, social media is moving beyond its personal networking roots - there'll come a time soon when "social" media is simply considered part of the media more widely. Now, that doesn't mean we can drop the social element - the evolutionary part of social media is that it enables everyone to take part, it provides a way for everyone to voice their thoughts and opinions on any subject, any time, and that includes live-streaming.
But this is the new media landscape, user-generated media is rising to equal footing with all other content. Where YouTube has made celebrities out of bedroom broadcasters with media nous, live-streaming refines that dynamic even further - now, you don't even need to be an exceptional content creator, you just need to be in the right place at the right time.
Just as online content democratized newspaper journalism, putting small time blogs on equal footing with centuries old publications, live-streaming takes away one of traditional broadcasters' most significant advantages, in the control of the broadcast of live events.
The implications of this are massive - not only will this disrupt the established media landscape and lessen the value of TV networks, which are already in decline. But it will also mean a change in focus for marketers and marketing dollars.
Basic example - a 30-second ad spot during the Super Bowl, the pinnacle of TV ad real estate, would cost you $5 million, which advertisers pay in order to reach that 114 million strong TV audience. The recent viral "Chewbacca Mom" video posted on Facebook Live has been viewed 159 million times.
Now that's obviously an exception - you can't bank on "going viral" as a strategy, but the reach and resonance potential is clear. Had that been branded content, you could argue that it would have been potentially more valuable than a Super Bowl spot - and if that video were more readily available, if people could switch over to it on their TV set, it's viral potential would have been even further amplified.
Of course, many other videos and memes have gone viral on the same level without being broadcast through Facebook Live, so it's clearly the content not the medium in this case, but you get the point - as Facebook Live grows, so too does it's reach potential, and marketer interest. (And if brands were to spend as much producing a Facebook Live video as they do on those Super Bowl ads, it's a fair bet that they'd be able to generate equivalent, if not better, reach).
In more basic, applicable terms, it's worth all brands and their marketing teams considering how they might be able to use live-streaming within their own outreach efforts. Because it's only going to get bigger from here - it's going to become more prominent, more accessible, it's going to become a more significant media channel in the near future.
While the events that have brought live-streaming into the wider mainstream consciousness are incredibly sad, the implications for the future of the medium because of that shift are significant.
The potential is there to facilitate a major change in how we consume media and the methods we use to reach audiences. It comes with challenges, for sure, there are going to be issues that'll need to be addressed and resolved as we go. But ignoring it is equivalent to putting your head in the sand.