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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Facebook shifts focus from live-streaming video to long-form

January 26, 2017 | By Mark Glaser, Founder and Publisher – MediaShift @mediatwit

Although Facebook paid millions to the likes of the New York Times and BuzzFeed to live stream a certain number of videos — a $50 million investment altogether — publishers now say Facebook is talking to them less about live video and more about premium quality content, according to Recode’s Kurt Wagner.

“Our goal is to kick-start an ecosystem of partner content for the tab, so we’re exploring funding some seed video content, including original and licensed scripted, unscripted and sports content, that takes advantage of mobile and the social interaction unique to Facebook,” Facebook’s Ricky Van Veen said recently in a statement regarding original content.

While the one-year contracts haven’t yet ended, and there’s no official word from Facebook about them, it appears that they may have been a short term strategy for the platform. It also turns out many publishers aren’t interested in renewing these one-year Facebook Live contracts either. Some told Recode that Facebook’s compensation wasn’t enough to justify the time and resources needed to produce the live streams. So what’s the future of live-streaming on Facebook, and how can publishers get on board the new push for long-form video?

Live-Streaming Is Here to Stay
While some may interpret the news as Facebook admitting that live-streaming was never a profitable prospect, all arrows point to live-streaming’s staying power. Live viewership among Internet users decreased slightly in the second half of 2016. YouTube and Snapchat experienced small declines in market share of live-streaming, but Facebook’s market share actually rose from 14% to 17% between June and November of last year, according to eMarketer, suggesting that Facebook is emerging as a leader in a market that’s still in its infancy.

Meanwhile, Facebook has announced a slew of new tools and features for Live: a video tab on the Facebook app that makes spotting live videos easier (which helps fight against the algorithms that might keep viewership at bay); the ability to broadcast onto Facebook straight from a web browser (which is sure to keep Facebook competitive against the video bloggers doing this on YouTube); a “Live Contributor” role Page admins can assign people to broadcast live from the page; and enhanced live video metrics for people with at least 5,000 followers. Facebook is also planning to introduce mid-roll advertising, which will finally offer some payoffs for publishers who haven’t yet profited from these video streams.

Mediocre Content from Publishers Can’t Match Viral Hits
So it’s not necessarily that Facebook doesn’t believe publishers will now stay clear from Live altogether. In a breaking news moment, Live is the best way to reach as many as 1.7 billion viewers at once. Think of last year’s coup attempt in Turkey, or when House Democrats staged a sit-in to push for gun control.

Let’s also not overlookthe shooting of Philando Castile by police, and his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds’ Facebook Live stream in the immediate aftermath. Or even Chewbacca Mom, laughing in the glory of her own happiness, and the subsequent viral sensation she became.

When publishers slog through Facebook Live like it’s a chore, it shows. Hosts wear their ambivalence on their faces, and the quality is mediocre at best. With the abundance of competing content, users have no incentive to watch a live-stream. When individuals take to Facebook Live, however, it’s different. There’s no ambivalence. There’s the necessity that comes from immediacy. And the result is connection.

Brands Are Already Succeeding with Long-Form Video
Connection is the reason why some brands would prefer long-form video anyway. It often seems like Facebook is calling the shots these days when it comes to influencing media. But on-demand video services and live streaming are already pushing marketers to think beyond short 30-second ads, and toward advertising that is, essentially, stand-alone entertainment that connects with the viewer.

Case in point: Luxury brands like Burberry and BMW. Short commercials, which helps boost brand recognition, aren’t as important to them as it is to lesser known companies. They have loyal customers who are more concerned with the identity of the product — and identity comes from the perspectives, narratives and dramas you can present in what are basically short films. It’s a shift within marketing — “being” becomes more important than “having.”

Meanwhile, remember that ad blockers are some of the most popular mobile app and web extensions, with one out of every five smartphone users blocking advertising on web browsers, according to PageFair. Again, it goes back to the cable industry analogy. Just as viewers make time for premium long-form programming, getting them to turn off ad blockers requires making quality advertising! Because web advertising has become so targeted, there’s also more potential to experiment with advertising lengths.

So even though live-streaming on Facebook has been hit-and-miss so far, these could just be growing pains: Publishers will likely continue efforts with live-streaming and creating their own long-form video for editorial—and let’s not forget their focus on monetizing, regardless of format or platform.


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