Facebook has been making a big push into live-streaming, with improved Live functionality and features, dedicated discovery tools, including a Live map, and new enhancement additions like Live video masks, powered by recent Facebook acquisition MSQRD.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has made no secret about his enthusiasm for live-stream content and the potential he sees in the offering - in a recent Facebook Live Q & A session, Zuckerberg noted that Facebook has a 'long roadmap of things' to make Live better, and additional features they'll be looking to add in to the process over time.
But what's the end game with Live? Can Facebook take Live from a 'cool function' to a major element of their platform - and, importantly, a source of significant revenue?
The Facebook Roadmap
During the most recent Facebook stockholder meeting, Zuckerberg outlined the Facebook 'playbook' for product development.
Their monetization strategy for each platform works in, essentially, three stages:
- Build a product that people love
- Provide free tools for businesses to broaden app behaviours (beyond just interacting with friends)
- Provide paid options to help businesses maximize the platform
By following this process, Zuckerberg says, by the third stage, brands are coming to them, seeking ways to get more value out of the respective platform, which enables them to easily integrate paid options. This is the process they've followed with Facebook Pages, that they're following with Instagram right now, and that WhatsApp will also utilize.
Given this roadmap, it's not hard to imagine how Facebook's going to transition Live into something more significant, and why the platform is reportedly paying millions of dollars to creators to have them post exclusive content direct to Live.
Live is in the first stage of the cycle right now, Facebook's working to build a product that people love - and that presents its own challenges in live content. One of the biggest obstacles faced by other live-streaming apps has been content quality - you go onto any live-streaming platform right now and a lot of the options you see will be random, niche, low-fi broadcasts that don't have any significant audience appeal. That then drives people away - if there's not enough relevant content to keep people coming back for more, they won't, simple as that.
As noted by Meerkat's founder Ben Rubin in his announcement of the company's decision to move away from live-streaming:
"One thing we have learned is there is a very high emotional cost to being entertaining in a live format, and bringing on enough of a live audience to make it worthwhile is challenging too."
One of Meerkat's key issues was that it wasn't able to boost viewership beyond its initial surge, and repeat broadcasters were also hard to come by. Research shows Periscope has found much the same.
Because of this, in order to see live-streaming grow, Facebook knows it needs to provide compelling content - it, essentially, needs high-profile creators regularly uploading content. This is why Live started as a celebrity-only option, why, as noted, they're signing up big name creators to produce content. That strategy will eventually make Live a far more compelling option, both for viewers and for other creators.
Imagine if you could have your work featured alongside the latest broadcast from your favourite celebrity? The exposure potential is significant.
So how, then, if Facebook is able to make Live a compelling option, will they be able to monetize that attention? The answers may actually already exist within the Facebook Live code. Take a look at this tweet from The Next Web's Head of Content and Director of Social Media Matt Navarra.
As you can see (and as discovered by Moshe Isaacian), there are already measures built into the back-end code of Live to include the ability to add in commercial breaks. And that's particularly significant when you consider the possibility of Live as an option to traditional TV.
Now, you might scoff at that notion, but as we were shown by the recent House of Representatives protest, live-streaming can be used as a broadcast alternative, and that capacity is only going to grow as awareness and accessibility of live-stream options increases.
Live broadcasts have always been a major drawcard for broadcasters, and if they can provide such without the huge expense of a traditional live TV production, if they can reach a large audience off their own bat and include commercial breaks to monetize that content as well, you can bet Facebook Live will have the attention of great many producers and publishers.
As such, the potential of live-streaming is likely well beyond what many might suspect at this stage.
And on a smaller scale, live-streaming for your friends might be fun. Live-streaming with the potential for revenue through ads, that could definitely change the game for creators.
If you're wondering why Facebook is putting such big bets on Live, this is your answer. While it may seem fun or interesting right now, the potential for live-streaming is huge. Of course, the key challenge remains in creating compelling content, but the opportunities of the medium will grow as new functions, options and tools are added in.
There are also additional creative tools in the works - again, as uncovered by Moshe Isaacian in the Facebook Live code.
As Zuck says, they have a 'long roadmap' of features in the works for Live - no doubt some of them include merging into the next phase in augmented reality, but the majority will simply be new additions and options for Live itself. And Twitter, too, will be advancing Periscope in line with their NFL broadcast deal, which could also provide additional opportunities and integrations. And then there's YouTube's live-stream play.
The immediate opportunities of live-streaming may seem limited, may seem like an 'interesting' option more than anything else, but the building blocks are in place for something much bigger.
And with media consumption habits shifting...
You can expect the money to follow.
Watch this space.