Back in August, when Facebook announced its own live-streaming option - called 'Live' - the feature was only made available to users with verified profiles - meaning, essentially, celebrities only. While this annoyed some within the live-streaming community - which has quickly become a genuine movement with its own conferences, gatherings and celebrity hierarchy, of sorts - it seemed pretty clear that Facebook was just testing the waters, that Zuckerberg and Co had a greater plan for live-streaming, and that maybe they were waiting to see where the trend would go before pushing too hard on it.
Then, earlier this month, Facebook announced that live-streaming capability on the platform would be made available to all users, a move which has the potential to change the game on the live-streaming - front. But still, Facebook didn't go all out on the option. The Social Network's slowly rolling out full access to Live - at a rate of around 5,000 users per day, according to some reports - and Live video content can only be broadcast for a maximum of 30 minutes. Other live-streaming apps like Periscope and Blab have no such time restriction, so it would seem, at least at this stage, that Facebook's not making Live a major focus, that they're not buying into the hype around live-streaming and making it a fully fledged feature.
But that may be about to change - and today, Facebook's taken another step towards working with the trend of live-streaming video, opening up the option to all verified Pages on the platform.
And this could prove a crucial step.
Turning the Page
From Facebook's official announcement:
"Today, we're beginning to roll out the ability for verified Pages to share live video using Facebook for iOS. With Live, sports teams, media companies, brands, and other verified Pages can make announcements, share breaking news updates, take fans behind the scenes, host Q&As, and more."
One of the key questions around the widening roll-out of live-streaming on Facebook has been whether Pages will also be able to access to option, and today's announcement goes some way towards indicating that all Pages will get access - though again, as with the initial roll out, Facebook's only giving access to verified Pages to begin with. Given that many of these verified Pages already have large, engaged followings on Facebook, it makes sense that many of them will use Facebook's live-streaming option over, say, Periscope, in order to communicate breaking news and real-time updates with fans through the increasingly popular video option. That, in turn, will bring more audience to Facebook's live streams - just as they've done with celebrities, Facebook's using the popularity of these big brands to generate more interest in their live-stream offering before widening the capacity of the option further and letting all Pages in.
Why is that important? Because audience reach attracts attention, and quality content attracts audience. That equation may be key to seeing Facebook take over and dominate the live-streaming landscape - an offering tipped by many digital marketing experts to go big in 2016.
Winning the Race?
Live-streaming started out with Meerkat at South-by-Southwest, which was then surpassed by Periscope, which was then disrupted by other players like Blab and Firetalk and a whole host of others looking for a way in. But interestingly, Facebook and YouTube, currently the two biggest players in online video content, have remained relatively passive on this front. Facebook, as noted, introduced 'Live' for celebrities, and they're now looking to push it wider, but YouTube hasn't made any big move as yet - though 'yet' is likely the key term in this context.
Facebook's game plan on live-streaming is actually very clever - first off, you get celebrities creating content. By giving celebrities exclusive access you entice more of them to post video - that exclusivity, in itself, is a great selling point and makes those high-profile users feel important, having access to something not all users do. Those celebrity videos, shared with their established followings, get huge view counts - so already, Facebook can boast that their Live videos are getting way more views than those on Periscope or Blab.
The next stage is to roll it our more widely - all users will eventually be given access, and now all verified Pages too will have it. This will create a supply-and-demand dynamic for Live content on the platform, and will likely improve Facebook's position as the place to go for breaking news - if more of those popular Pages start using Live to broadcast big news, which they will, as their Live videos will get great reach, then more people will come to Facebook to see more of that content in future, which sets up the next stage of Facebook Live, the element that could lead to Facebook dominating live-streaming overall and beating out Periscope.
That next stage? A Live video platform, within Facebook, where users can go to see all the Live content being broadcast, in real-time, any time of the day or night. This is essentially how other live-streaming apps function, and is the key difference in Facebook's approach to Live, at present. On Periscope, for example, there's a big emphasis on seeing the live-streams that are happening in all parts of the world - they've even added a world map tool through which you can connect to streams happening in different regions to experience new perspectives and new parts of the world.
In this sense, Periscope is more about discovery, while Facebook Live, in its current form, is largely focussed on serving your existing audience.
But what if Facebook made their own separate platform for Live, highlighting all the bestlive-streamed content from across Facebook's network, tailored to you and happening in real-time? If Facebook were to do that, they're platform would, arguably, have much more content of wide appeal - they'd have videos from celebrities and big Pages coming through at a regular rate, all highlighted based on your interests. And what if, then, you could also have your own personal or Page live-streams appear on that list, in amongst that celebrity content - content that's getting huge view counts and drawing a huge audience to the Facebook Live platform? That would be a significant draw - the differentiating factor of discovery on Periscope, Meerkat or similar could easily be duplicated, and improved, by Facebook, all with the added bonus of Facebook's unmatched audience attention and reach. In this sense, Facebook could, in some ways, be using the existing providers as a testing ground, seeing what they do and how they do it before deciding on what feature or addition to introduce next.
A Winning Hand
Make no mistake, Facebook could take over live-streaming - and if streaming does become the next big thing, as many are predicting, Facebook will move on this and become the biggest player in the market. It just depends on what value the company sees in it, at what stage they decide to roll out options to beat out their competition.
Facebook's already looking to add in separate tabs for shopping and videos posted and shared by your friends and connections, it's not hard to image they'd look to extend this, and their targeting and customization capacity, based on your listed on-platform details and behaviors, are beyond what can be offered by anyone else. A Facebook Live video platform, could be very engaging, indeed.
Already, Facebook says, thousands of people are using Live, and are getting big viewership on that content. With reach and awareness being key goals of any live-streaming strategy, there's likely no where better to be.