Live-streaming is the social media trend of the moment. It started out with Meerkat, then escalated to Twitter, via Periscope, which caught the attention of Facebook and YouTube in varying capacity. But despite the increased enthusiasm of the big platforms, many people still fail to see the benefit or value of 'going live' or how it might relate to their business. And while there has been specific wins (Chewbacca Mom) and use cases (House of Reps protest), live-streaming has still not seen widespread adoption as yet.
But momentum is certainly increasing, and the latest Presidential debates underlined exactly why those big platforms are so enamored with live, and how it could become a significantly more powerful and influential offering in the near future.
The first Presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was the most watched ever on TV, with 84 million people tuning in. This was spread across the major TV networks as follows:
In addition to this, that viewership was boosted by live-streaming on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, serving a combined live viewing audience of some 9.5 million, which is only a fraction of the total audience (equal to around a 12% share of the above chart).
But here's where the data gets interesting - for the second debate, live-stream viewership increased by around 27% in total across the three platforms, while TV viewership declined by 20%. That live-streaming trend looks set to continue based on the available numbers for the third debate - here's a chart of TV vs live-streaming audience trends for the three events.
There are some additional provisos to this data - it only takes into account the total streams on the recognized live-stream partner broadcasts on each platform, not any re-broadcasts, and the audiences of each platform are international, as opposed to the TV networks which are nation-based.
And while the total audience count may seem minor compared to traditional TV coverage, the trend is clear.
As the TV audience declined, more people tuned into the live-streams, showing an increased confidence in, and reliance upon, these platforms as a coverage source. Traditional TV did recover that audience loss with the third debate, but again, live-streaming continued to rise. And that's without taking into account the additional social content around the three events on each platform.
For example, Facebook reported that there were 55 million views of debate-related Facebook Live videos of the first Presidential debate, while 18.6 million people in the U.S. generated 73.8 million likes, posts, comments and shares. On Twitter, meanwhile, the second debate was the most tweeted ever.
Tonight's #debate was the most Tweeted ever, with more than 17 million debate-related Tweets sent.- Twitter (@twitter) October 10, 2016
Given the attention around these events, the merger of engagement between the two processes - viewing and discussion - makes sense, capitalizing on the second-screening trend and bringing all the related content onto a single platform.
And that trend is significant - research has shown that 87% of consumers are now using more than one device at any given time, while 85% of Twitter users who are active on Twitter during prime-time say that they tweet about TV content they're watching.
The grouping of these functions works to facilitate consumption trends, and the numbers show more people are clearly becoming aware of, and watching, live-streams.
Major events like these offer a great opportunity for the platforms to showcase their capacity to become key providers for such content. And during the debate, Facebook, in particular, did exactly that.
As it Happens
While Twitter has received a lot of praise for the quality of its live-stream content, Facebook, in particular, won out in one very important area during the third debate.
According to research by media streaming service Wowza Media Systems, Facebook had the lowest latency, beating even satellite and cable for some audiences.
As reported by Mashable:
"Facebook was delivering its stream at a 13-second delay, on average, compared to radio. But for some viewers it was in the single digits at 7 seconds, which made it the fastest option. The fastest feed, on average, was cable at 12 seconds. Satellite was 20 seconds on average. Reuters.tv came in fourth at 27 seconds. The slowest stream was Bloomberg at 56 seconds."
Those results would no doubt be a concern for the major providers - essentially, it shows that Facebook was providing the fastest stream and real-time commentary, and all without viewers having to pay for access.
A few seconds delay may not seem to be a big concern, but if you can get the news faster, why wouldn't you? The closer to real-time the better, and Facebook's live-streaming back-end looks set to deliver better results in this regard than many existing sources. Combine that with higher quality broadcasts, which you can now also stream direct to your TV, and Facebook Live is clearly on a winner.
Major events like the Presidential debates offer great opportunity for these new platforms to capitalize on attention and demonstrate their viability, and the viewer numbers show that all three providers have done that across the recent debates. Now, general awareness of live-streaming is increasing, people are learning that they can log in via any device and see broadcast-quality content and becoming aware of how to tune their TV sets into these new sources.
This sets the stage for live-streaming to take another big step forward, and become a challenger for traditional TV.
And if it does, that will also amplify opportunities for independent content creators and wannabe stars.
Seizing on this, Facebook will soon release a new ad campaign to promote Facebook Live.
Using a two-stage process - awareness and tutorial - the new campaign aims at get more everyday users to broadcasting themselves and their experiences.
The focus here is on getting more people to see Live as a viable channel, which will benefit The Social Network on two fronts.
First, more people sharing more content means more engagement, and more time spent on platform. Getting you to spend more of your time on Facebook is the company's prime objective - if they can do so via Live, that's a big win.
But additionally, Facebook's also be able to make Live a more desirable avenue for the next generation of creators by aligning their content with big audience broadcasts. For example, if Facebook can get thousands of people watching a Live broadcast by someone like Kevin Hart, they can also use that opportunity to showcase individual creators who are making similar, comedic work, boosting their exposure alongside more popular content. If those creators can then generate interest in their Live content as a result, that'll keep them coming back, adding more quality content to the platform and bringing more viewers.
This effectively develops into a new creative eco-system, attracting more talent to the offering and boosting viewership over time - all without Facebook having to pay creators or do any additional promotion. If Facebook can also offer greater monetization tools for Live to help those publishers make money from their posts, that could also lure more talent across from YouTube and Vine/Periscope, further enhancing Facebook's market position.
Such process would also help them tackle the main issue that's plagued live-stream platforms over time - that live-stream content quality is generally not that great, which causes viewers to lose interest.
When you look at it on balance, it's easy to see why social platforms are so keen on pushing Live as the next big thing. Because it is. People gravitate towards the interactive options that offer the best opportunity to share their perspective and experience. In the early days of social, this was text-based updates, then photos became the big trend, now video. Live video is the next evolution along that line - an immediate, interactive process that enables you to better connect with your audience, be they your friends, your fans or your prospective clients. You can interact in real-time, you can respond, it's the closest thing to being present.
The next advance on that front will be virtual reality - and as such, it's little surprise to see that Facebook is already building Live functionality into their coming VR tools.
Gear VR will get Facebook live streaming pic.twitter.com/JrDlqvYgrt- Karissa Bell (@karissabe) October 6, 2016
It may seem small right now, live-streaming may not appear to be a significant contender or a real avenue for entertainment. But the data shows that interest is growing, the platforms are expanding. Whether Facebook Live beats Periscope or YouTube comes out another live option, the function itself is more relevant than the platform.
It's worth considering where the trend is headed as you consider your future social strategy plans.