It’s hard to argue with the way Enrique Iglesias used a Facebook Live broadcast to promote his new single “Duele El Corazón” today. Snuggling with his dog Jack, he talked about the song, his favorite sports team and where people can find him sunbathing — the perfect combination of info and intimacy to feed the stalker-ish obsessions of fans and move product.
It made sense. The same cannot be said of Facebook Live’s big features roll-out in Hollywood two weeks ago. As a video screen played Tastemade’s 55-minute live stream of a pair of a hands drawing faces on the creamy surface of a cup of coffee latte with a toothpick, members of the media roamed the room with their smart phones, eagerly Facebook Live’ing to what were likely non-existent audiences. Their enthusiasm seemed forced, like they were gazing intently into a mirror, desperately trying to convince themselves that they looked good in this outfit they so wanted to buy.
The message of the day was “this is the next big thing, you have to try it,” but it felt as an unhip as Mom’s awkward post about sexting on your timeline… or Facebook chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s stilted unboxing of Oculus Rift the previous week.
But, when all is said and done, none of that matters. As anyone who’s spent any time in Hollywood or Silicon Valley knows, a good launch event doesn’t necessarily translate into a successful product. And, sure, grandmas use Facebook, but so do millennials, along with everybody else and their brother.
Facebook Live doesn’t have to displace YouNow or Snapchat as the cool live streaming choice for teens and tweens. When you have 1.59 billion active users as Facebook does, you don’t need to be cool.
“When Apple launched iTunes, they had maybe 10–12 million [iPods] out there. When you look at Facebook, you’re talking billions,” said Reed Berglund, co-founder and CEO of FullBottle, a marketing technology firm specializing in digital influencers. “So the sheer scale allows them to win the market.”
Amazon-owned Twitch seems to have taken notice of the dangers of narrowcasting to the youth market. The platform’s success has been built on its rep as the hip place for gamers to live stream, but lately it’s been branching out into mom and grandma-friendly content with marathons of shows by long-deceased PBS stars Julia Child and Bob Ross.
The pitfalls of trendiness are illustrated by the rapid rise and fall of Meerkat. The mobile live streaming app made a big bang when it debuted in February 2015, and peaked at 140 on the iTunes app chart after it became the social media sensation of the moment at hipster haven SXSW the following month. But it was quickly eclipsed later that same month by the release of Twitter-owned Periscope, which racked up 10 million accounts by August and went on to be named iPhone App of the Year.
Last month, it was revealed that Meerkat would attempt to rebrand itself as a platform for user-to-user video interaction, rather than broadcast.
“I think Meerkat saw it coming, and they pivoted,” said Mary Ermitanio, manager for Manatt Digital Media, which provides consulting and venture capital for companies in the tech space. “I think Periscope has seen it coming, as well, and they might also pivot, and maybe go into B2B. It’s certainly threatening their current business model.”
One of the companies targeting the B2B space is Stre.am, which last week launched its new Enterprise platform that enables users (including clients Volvo Car Open and Whistle Sports) to live stream to embedded players on the web and mobile, then share the saved videos in HD across platforms.
“Facebook doesn’t allow the individual to go out and expand [the live stream] and maintain it and own rights to it and grow themselves on their own digital platform,” said Will Jamieson, CMO of Stre.am.
What Facebook Live does do is bring the platform’s teeming mass of users into the conversation. The Periscope-like animated user reactions that appear over the video image (love, laughter, wow, sad and angry) are not that impressive. But by opening Live’s API to developers, Facebook is broadening its engagement capabilities with products such as Live Studio, a technology developed by L.A.-based company Telescope that gives producers the ability to switch to different camera feeds in real time and put comments and voting into the broadcast as on-screen graphics as they happen.
Millennial-targeting multi-platform network Fusion has jumped in with both feet, taking advantage of the interactive capabilities of Live Studio in its new Thursday night Facebook Live broadcast of “The Chris Gethard Show,” launched last week, and making ample use of Facebook Live for man-on-the-street interviews on its show “America with Jorge Ramos.”
But while Facebook Live is a shiny new toy for Fusion, the network still gives play time to Periscope, YouTube and other social platforms.
“We’re starting to understand how each of those audiences’ behaviors are different and there are slightly different Fusion audiences for each,” said Jigar Mehta, Fusion’s VP of digital operations. “When a story hits, we’re going to say, ‘That’s a story for Periscope’ or ‘That’s a story for Facebook Live.’”
Fusion’s policy underlines the point that, while there may be some notable losers in the social video race (e.g. Meerkat), it’s wrong to expect one winner, a la the VHS vs. Betamax or blu-ray vs. HD DVD showdowns.
On the other hand, media companies clearly lose when live streaming platforms are used to illegally transmit their IP, as demonstrated by the rash of unauthorized Periscope re-transmissions of the $99 pay-per-view telecast of the Floyd Mayweather/Manny Pacquiao fight last year. And it’s a problem that Facebook’s recently-announced Rights Manager for video is unlikely to remedy.
However, it is within Facebook’s power to monetize the videos with ads. Facebook is testing ad-monetization with a handful of media companies — a process complicated for both advertiser and IP owner by Facebook’s methodology for counting views for videos, which appear in a user’s feed sans audio. (The company just announced a third-party verification program for its ad metrics.) But it appears to be a long way from launching a video monetization scheme that will enable everyday creators to quit their day jobs the way YouTube’s has.
But, at the Facebook Live launch event, Facebook VP of product management Will Cathcart told VideoInk that the company believes “dedicated Favebook Live’rs… can build a business on this” and, he promised, “we’ve got some ideas that we’re kicking around internally.”
Facebook Live might not be the best breeding ground for compelling original content. Vine’s six-second limit has inadvertently created a unique genre of visual comedy haiku, and there are video time restrictions on other social platforms that demand brevity, including Snapchat (10 seconds) and Facebook-owned Instagram (recently expanded to 1 minute), while Facebook’s open-ended streaming capabilities enable if not encourage a rambling, blabby looseness.
The casualness that live streaming promotes is often viewed as engaging intimacy in the streaming video space, but Jason Kirk, chief business officer for online video rights management and marketing company Zefr, is hoping Facebook Live users err on the side of professionalism.
“It doesn’t have to be CNN, but it doesn’t have to be, ‘Hey, I have my phone on and I’m driving down the freeway,’ either,” Kirk says. Then again, “you and I might not think it’s interesting, but other people will, and that’s kind of the world we live in now, where entertainment is defined by the user.”
And, apparently, sometimes its defined as a hand drawing faces in foamy milk: Tastemade’s caffe latte art video got over 1.4 million views with in an hour.