Live-streaming is the buzz social media trend of the moment, but despite its rising popularity, there are still some key challenges to overcome before social platforms can fully maximize the potential of the option.
One of the main problems facing live-streaming platforms is that there's a very high noise to signal ratio - while some live content is great and will keep people watching for longer, a lot of it is simply not. The bottom line, as noted by Blab CEO Shaan Puri in that company's shut down announcement, is that "most live-streams suck".
That blunt assessment no doubt raises the hackles of many live-stream advocates, but the stats speak for themselves - Puri noted that only around 10% of their audience were coming back to the platform on a regular basis, while Meerkat CEO Ben Rubin cited similar concerns in his announcement of that platform's decision to pivot.
Again, as noted by Puri:
"The struggle with Live-streaming is that we need to show you something awesome, that's being made right now. Turns out, that's really tough. It killed Meerkat, and Periscope & FB Live are feeling the pain right now. Really, only Twitch has gotten it right with live streaming video games."
Because of this, we're now seeing live-stream platforms introduce new tools and options to highlight more relevant live-stream content to keep viewers coming back.
Facebook, for example, recently introduced a new picture-in-picture display which pops up whenever you're logged into Facebook and one of your friends or Pages you follow starts up a Live broadcast.
Image via Ben Shute
They've also introduced a response graph tool to help people skip to the best sections of Live videos, and Facebook, of course, already uses it's all-knowing News Feed algorithm to uncover personally relevant content which it can push through to the new video discovery tab placed right in the middle of your bottom bar navigation (not yet rolled out to all users).
And Periscope, too, has been working on improved discovery features. They introduced Replay Highlights back in July, and now, they're adding curated channels which aim to help uncover more relevant content, and higher quality broadcasts which you may be interested in.
As explained by Periscope, curated channels will highlight topics, ideas, and events that inspire Periscopers to share their perspectives.
"Channels are categorized according to the conversation that surrounds them, ranging from breaking or developing events to ongoing, enduring topics.
- Channels driven by Hashtags, such as #Food, #Comedy, #Art and #Music, are updated in real-time as someone in the community goes live.
- Featured channels, such as the Presidential Debates, NFL: Road to Super Bowl 51, New York Fashion Week, UN General Assembly and Pride, are planned moments in time that merit a dedicated resource to surface timely and relevant live video to that event or topic.
- We'll also continue to highlight breaking news events, such as the Charlotte Protests, the coup in Turkey and #NoBillNoBreak, in standalone, featured channels. These channels will curate relevant, timely broadcasts from our community to help tell that story as it unfolds."
Of particular note here is the addition of "Featured Channels" which, essentially, is TV broadcast quality content streaming through Periscope. This is Periscope's TV alternative content - if you were to connect up Periscope to your TV set, you could switch to this channel like any other and see important, high-quality live content that you won't get anywhere else.
You can see here, when you click on the 'Channels' tab, Periscope has arranged the content with those exclusive broadcasts, like from MLB and NFL, given particular focus on the right, making it even easier for people to go straight to the best stuff (you can also access curated channels via the global feed in the app).
Of course, when you do click through to these broadcasts, you're still getting mostly vertical aspect ratio videos, which don't maximize the use of full-screen, but this is another small step for Periscope towards becoming a genuine TV competitor. Twitter's hoping that one day soon, there'll be enough high quality, exclusive content on Periscope to inspire more people to see the platform as a legitimate entertainment option - rather than settling for the programming on TV, you'll be able to switch to Periscope instead. And if they can succeed, through their accumulation of live content deals and improved broadcast technology, that would give the network a much stronger platform through which to attract more creative talent.
Rather than live-streaming being seen as an option for everyone, for the platforms themselves, they need popular content, they need a reason for viewers to keep coming back. The way to keep that top tier live talent broadcasting is to give them an audience - or, alternatively (even in addition), give them better ways to make money from their efforts. And that's likely to be the next big battleground for the offering.
Live Stream Monetization
Interestingly, the template on this front may already exist. In a recent post on the Andreessen Horowitz blog, Connie Chan wrote about how live-streaming has taken off in China, with particular focus on how live-streaming has fast become a revenue generation option for broadcasters through the practice of digital gift-giving.
"If a viewer likes a broadcast, he or she can send a public question, a digital gift, or multiple digital gifts to grab the broadcaster's attention. The broadcaster can then choose to acknowledge the sender's username and respond with a quick answer or a simple thank you. For example, let's say you send a broadcaster a digital sticker of a sports car (a luxury sticker, usually costing over $30 apiece) and then immediately afterwards ask him or her to sing your favorite song. If the broadcaster feels up for it, he or she will thank you for the gift and honor your request - all in the public chatroom that other viewers are also watching from."
Chinese live-stream platforms - of which there are now more than 150 - have also gamified this practice by rewarding viewers with status titles based on how much they spend on these virtual gifts for the hosts.
As noted by The Wall Street Journal:
"On [live-streaming platform] Qiqi, fans are labeled based on how much they give, with $7.50 conferring the title "Rich Man." The labels progress all the way up to "Divine Emperor," at $750,000."
This provides additional incentive for viewers to donate money which, in-turn, keeps the broadcasters coming back, fueling a new live-stream eco-system, with revenue split between the app store, the broadcaster and the platform.
And while the practice of gift-giving is more engrained in Chinese culture than it is in the west, such a system can work - both YouNow and Twitch already have donation options which, in YouNow's case, enable a sort of digital busking option for artists.
This is an area that Facebook is most definitely looking into - earlier this month we noted how there's already an option built into Facebook Live's back-end code for virtual 'tip jar' system just waiting to be activated.
That option was also alluded to in a recent interview with former Facebook Live head Vadim Lavrusik, and it seems like a logical path to take, particularly considering its success in other markets.
Seizing the Moment
The introduction of better monetization tools and options seem to be the next logical step for live-streaming, particularly in regards to how they can promote quality content production, as opposed to the democratization of video access for all. If they can get more of those high quality creators broadcasting live more often, that'll be a big step towards drowning out the less interesting content that turns viewers away from the platforms at first glance.
And really, this is the core challenge for live. There's little doubting the offering's potential - 'Chewbacca Mom', for example, has had more than 161 million views, more than the 2016 Super Bowl, which was the third most watched broadcast in television history. And while the comparison here isn't direct - Chewbacca Mom has received those views over time, not in one hit, and there are other factors to consider - the example does highlight the potential of live-stream content, when done right.
But 'done right' is the key, and in order to do it right, live-stream platforms need quality content, a consistent feed of important, relevant material that will keep viewers coming back for more, which will then attract more creators, more content - and ultimately, more money.
Given the overall interest in live streaming, the money seems to be on the horizon, it's within sight. Now it's just a matter of who can unlock that potential first and maximize the opportunity.