Live content seems to be an increasing focus for Facebook but whether that’s a direct challenge to Twitter, and a long-term opportunity for advertisers, remains to be seen.
Facebook confirmed this week that its live video product would be rolling out to all US users, an announcement which comes just days after it launched 'Sports Stadium', an unfiltered feed designed to allow real-time reaction and commentary around key sporting events.
Live video offers similar functionality to the likes of Periscope and Meerkat in that a user can literally share a video feed live from their phones, either of what they are seeing, or commonly, of themselves talking and interacting. The videos can be watched directly in the newsfeed and it’s surprisingly easy to be drawn into one for minutes on end.
Launched originally for selected influencers last year, the functionality has been tried out by public figures such as Jamie Oliver, Neil Patrick Harris and of course Facebook’s own Sheryl Sandberg. On the face of it the announcement puts them on a direct course to clash with Twitter's mission to connect people live in the moment.
Certainly there is an element of this, especially in how high-profile users now interact, but the private nature of most users' Facebook sharing means it will always struggle to publicly scale conversations.
On new year’s eve, when a fire raged in downtown Dubai, the BBC was showing state-sanctioned footage from an hour previously, but through the Periscope app you could watch it live almost as if you were there. The native public sharing, discoverability and mapping functionality made it easy to look for new perspectives on the story, in a way that Facebook will not be able to challenge, even as its live video functionality rolls out.
With that in mind, it may actually be Snapchat users rather than tweeters that Facebook is aiming this at – that platform’s continued growth has ultimately been fuelled more by its disposability than its secrecy, with users willing to share more regularly if those postings aren’t archived for eternity.
Although live videos are saved and can be watched later, they do present an opportunity to capture more trivial moments that you wouldn’t bother actively sharing later, still safe in the knowledge that only your connections can see them. If you’ve ever seen how many Snapchats a teenager can send in just a few minutes, you’ll start to understand this sort of disposable mind-set.
From Facebook's perspective, it's a case of the more video the merrier, with continued growth in advertising dollars heavily fuelled by the wider range of video opportunities. It becomes much easier for it to serve video adverts if users are accustomed to seeing video from their friends, celebrities and other news sites than if the rest of the feed is static.
The ‘ice bucket challenge’ two years ago gave many people their first reason to post a video themselves, and live video could provide a new motivation to do so. With a similar aim, Facebook has recently also started prompting users to record a video message, and not just leave a simple text post, when it's a friend's birthday.
In reality, live video functionality is nothing new. Google opened up its ‘Hangouts on Air’ platform back in 2012 (with participants including David Beckham, Barack Obama and brands including the work I did with Cadbury) and had occasional YouTube live streams earlier than that. The difficulty in all cases is finding a big enough audience in the moment to make it worthwhile, and typically far more viewership actually happens after the event, often of an edited version that gets more heavily promoted.
Advertisers have jumped on Meerkat, Periscope and more recently Facebook to test this new live functionality, and doing so is certainly a way of gaining industry attention and consumer intrigue. Longer term, the value to advertisers really depends on creative hooks that make a live stream relevant and audience grabbing, rather than any assumption that all marketing stunts need to be broadcast live.
Many advertisers have already found that trying to be truly real-time and reactive on Twitter can be hugely resource intensive and often adds little value over well thought through ongoing ideas and personalised targeting. Live video almost inevitably has lower production values and fewer clear messages, so marketers must think carefully about the role it plays in connecting with consumers.
Video overall provides a fantastic format for advertisers to engage consumers and keep them front of consumers' minds, so the more people Facebook can get posting and watching video content, the broader the canvas it'll have to play in.
Just as with 360 video and virtual reality, we will no doubt see some fantastic examples of advertisers pushing the creative boundaries over the coming year. Those who don’t relish the opportunity of being first to market may be wise to sit back and see how consumers truly respond.
Jerry Daykin is global digital partner at Carat