By Jason George
It’s been clear for quite some time that Facebook has ambitions in the video space, but over the past six months its plans have begun to crystallize.
The implications for content creation and distribution are seismic: if you’re a multichannel video program distributor, be afraid, very afraid. If you’re a content creator, however, the world is becoming a better place day by day.
A major step was the significant upgrade Facebook Live received back in April with the launch of an API that enabled professional-quality streaming video along with interactive features and monetization through Facebook’s branded-content tool. New features are being added to that API all the time and usage is growing exponentially.
Live events, particularly sport, are the last great bastion of cable and satellite subscriptions and appointment-to-view TV. If Facebook and other social networks make inroads into that business and the associated ad revenues, it will be a significant blow to the traditional players.
Well, guess what: most major sports leagues and broadcasters have quickly jumped on board, as have talent, individual show brands, live events, sports teams and athletes who already have substantial user bases built up on Facebook. No longer is Facebook a supplementary ‘nice to have’ extra, it’s becoming a ‘must have’ that can complement existing content networks with significant traffic and, increasingly, replace them.
Getting these live streams up and running is almost too easy. With a camera, a decent internet connection and publishing capability via the API, one-man bands and major content owners can begin streaming whatever they like. Whether it’s a live selfie cam, breaking news, a sporting event or branded content, the platform can take in anything, distribute it quickly and present it in a way that drives viral promotion and audience engagement.
Facebook Live recently streamed the first 11 minutes of season two of Netflix’s Pablo Escobar drama Narcos in 14 countries and 10 languages (including subtitles). The social network has also partnered on several leading events such as the celebrity-driven Stand Up 2 Cancer charity telethon and Global Citizens Chime For Change, and the ground-breaking 13-hour coverage "A Day in the Life of the Lincoln Center".
Fox News and CNN are already using the platform to reach new, old and young audiences alike with calls to action and viewer engagement mechanics (such as polling, voting and comments to air). The next step may be to simulcast breaking news to social media platforms in real time. The scale and impact are undeniable.
With a few simple steps and at relatively low cost, Facebook pages just became a whole lot richer for owners and visitors alike, delivering a notification to fans to tune in immediately in order to better activate the user base. For Facebook, new mechanics and more robust tools help address two perceived weaknesses: that it’s not primarily a video platform (with all that comes with that in terms of monetization potential); and that that it’s not real-time; that subscribers go there when they feel like it and catch up on news that may now be out of date, rather than to experience something ‘in the moment.’
More recently, Facebook has started to roll out a video button to some users on its mobile application – which, rumor has it, will eventually replace the Messenger tab for all subscribers – to more directly drive traffic to both live video content and VoD. This provides a hub for Facebook’s algorithm to surface content to the user based on trending-type information, and solves one of the big issues on the platform: discovery. Viewers won’t have to seek out popular content: what’s trending, what people are talking about, and what’s most important to know ‘now’ will be readily available at the tap of a screen.
Video, and live streaming in particular, are major priorities on Facebook’s roadmap, and anyone on the brand and content ownership side of the equation is well aware of their weight in the digital video space. So what’s next?
First, while Facebook is a great promotional vehicle, it will have to open up more avenues for monetization and revenue sharing with content providers. This will ensure high volumes of premium content are secured, and will serve to attract content creators that currently use other platforms as their primary distribution platform. Facebook’s branded-content tool, excellent analytics and retargeting capability are already available via the API, and I’d be surprised if other methods for monetization didn’t become available within 12 months.
Once the above has been ticked off the list, Facebook will have that ‘other platform,’ YouTube, firmly in its sights. The opportunities are wide: Facebook has the scale, deep data insights, and ad network to launch as a fully-fledged TV service. If Netflix’s algorithm is clever in the way it learns about us and recommends programming, imagine what Facebook could do to drive content discovery and consumption with the information it’s got from 1.8 billion users’ likes and preferences, plus its distribution power? This also goes beyond the blue button – think about Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp too.
We’re on the precipice of the next phase of television. By offering access to its massive global reach, creating a rich and real-time content medium and harnessing the power of user engagement, Facebook has all the pieces in place. In one fell swoop, it has launched a powerful vehicle for media owners and brands to effectively promote and distribute their content, providing event TV with an entirely new funnel and ecosystem built in.
The last piece of the puzzle is monetization. Once those floodgates open, it really is game on.
Jason George, a veteran of the social and engagement television spaces, has worked at the forefront of audience interactivity and technology for more than two decades. As CEO of Telescope, Jason pivoted the Los Angeles-based company from a services-focused company into a technology platform that is the de-facto standard for social media-meets-television activations.