Facebook Live launched in August 2015 to much fanfare. Livestreaming allowed brands (and later all users in April 2016) to instantly connect with followers. Live was touted as a valuable tool for influencers, celebrities, brands, and media publishers to publish real time video content on Facebook for the first time. Brands started to use Facebook to stream live events and other video content and users quickly adopted livestreaming to publish life updates to friends in their network.
During the initial launch, Facebook sourced a wealth of high-quality video content to bring attention to the new streaming service. Facebook did this by securing lucrative partnerships with major publishers, celebrities, and influencers. Fun features like Live Reactions (animated likes, hearts, and smiley faces) and Q&A in real time helped to cultivate an interactive experience for fans.
Facebook’s leadership was open about the company’s strategy to go all-in on Live, focusing many product development resources into expanding the product. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that the company made a big decision to ”shift a lot of our video efforts to focus on Live, because it is this emerging new format; not the kind of videos that have been online for the past five or ten years.”
Facebook Live hit its two year anniversary in April 2018. Fidji Simo, Facebook’s VP of Product, shared some key stats in a recent status update:
Despite these high numbers, Facebook is competing in a crowded space. YouTube continues to dominate video streaming (live and prerecorded) and influencers have gravitated towards Instagram Live to reach a millennial audience. This prompts the question: what happened to Facebook Live?
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Facebook has continued to roll out new Live features – but many of them aren’t particularly groundbreaking. Aside from adding the ability to rewind and minor technical tweaks to improve the creator experience, Facebook has stayed in the shadow of the multitude of social media sites that offer live updates (Snapchat, Instagram) or specialize in livestreaming (Twitch, Periscope).
Facebook Live is competing against a host of livestreaming options, many of which are very established and niche. Livestreaming has become a virtual arms race where each social media platform strives to surpass the others.
Facebook Live is potentially pivoting from broadcast into virtual reality. Facebook debuted Oculus Venues in October 2017, which allows viewers to stream live events using a virtual reality (VR) headset like the Oculus Go or Samsung Gear. Much of the programming on Facebook’s Oculus Venues is exclusive to Facebook users.
The range of recent VR campaigns includes:
Facebook has plans to stream additional types of media, including stand-up comedy and classic films. The social network might be a pioneer in popularizing VR technology, which is prominent primarily in the gaming industry. Virtual reality is an emerging technology and Facebook appears to be ahead of the curve compared to competitors.
During Facebook Live’s launch, Zuckerberg said “We built this big technology platform so we can go and support whatever the most personal and emotional and raw and visceral ways people want to communicate are as time goes on.” This turned out to be prescient, as a small subsection of users have used Live to broadcast heinous crimes with disturbing frequency.
Broadcasting violent crimes is against Facebook’s rules, but like most user-generated content, it’s difficult to enforce. The social media giant received criticism after several high-profile crimes were streamed live and remained on the platform for hours before being removed by administrators. It became clear that Facebook was severely understaffed — they’ve hired 3,000 additional moderators within the last year and currently employ 7,500+ moderators to review content posted by users.
Facebook has responded by hiring more moderators to take down illegal content. Even with these additional efforts to squelch illegal Live content, fully removing abusive content can be like playing whack-a-mole. Facebook’s reputation has been negatively impacted and it’s hard to predict how this will play out in the long term.
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Are Facebook Live’s offerings enough to keep the attention of users in a very crowded space? Live’s success depends on continuing to innovate to keep the attention of social media users and providing tools needed for creators to thrive. The support of influencers is a key to Facebook Live’s continued success; when influencers use a platform regularly, they bring audiences with them. Perhaps Facebook Live isn’t offering anything unique enough to gain a dedicated base of influencers who are regularly posting to the platform.
In comparison, Twitch is a livestreaming platform that has become tremendously popular among gaming influencers. This popularity can be partially attributed to the fact that Twitch provides influencers with methods to monetize their channels via paid user subscriptions, superchats, and affiliate revenue.
Facebook Live may need to adopt similar influencer tools to entice influencers to use Facebook Live over other livestreaming platforms. If influencers can monetize their Facebook Live content easily, they’re likely to choose Facebook Live and their audiences are likely to follow and adopt the feature. More broadly, Facebook may need to meet and exceed the features offered by other Livestreaming platforms to succeed in the long term.