How Are Publishers Using Facebook Live?

An Anxious Media Industry Wants to Know

By Kyle Siegel

Facebook launched a real-time video streaming feature called “Live” originally aimed at verified celebrities and media outlets in August 2015. With over 1.7B potential viewers and key power users adopting the feature (avid Live broadcaster Vin Diesel recently surpassed 100 million Facebook fans), stakeholders in the media world are anxiously wondering how Live is about to change things. Despite Facebook partnering with top tier publishers, its video viewership threatens television.

Even scarier for the future of TV, mobile millennials drawn to real-time experiences seem psychologically aligned with Live. The format is perfect for social media stars thriving on spontaneity and spending virtually no money on production. Advertisers with billions of dollars worth of spend are salivating. But no viable or scalable monetization model exists…yet. Finally, cynical media execs view Facebook Live as the latest shiny object in social media. Live’s value proposition for all of these stakeholders will take a while to prove out. Television took decades to normalize content, build audiences and find its most effective model. How do we begin to predict the mechanics of a total paradigm change in consumer-facing content as we know it?

Perhaps early usage is giving us hints. A broad stroke of publishers are using Live right now. We decided to take a sample of over two hundred Live streams published by verified media sources over the past 3 months. We analyzed 3 variables in an effort to gain insight into the future of Live:

Video length

Audience size

Type of broadcast

Here are some of our observations…

Length

The average Live stream was just over 17 minutes in duration. A stark contrast from Instagram and Vine which limit video length to mere seconds. A 17 minute video is also naturally similar to the length of a 30-minute TV program minus commercial time. This may point to Facebook live as the future platform for full-length programs. The eerily similar-to-TV time frame may also make advertisers comfortable to interject commercials. Peak viewership ebbed and flowed throughout the length of the video. The optimal length for maximum engagement is still unknown. However, it’s impossible to ignore early programmatic trends similar to TV.

Viewership

The average viewership was 186,000 people per stream. In comparison, the average attendance of a San Francisco Giants game is 42,000 at AT&T Park. When a 17-minute video can gain exposure equivalent to filling a major league stadium over four times, sponsors must take notice.

The chink in the armor in the eyes of advertisers may be lack of clarity around average viewing time. Nevertheless, besides stand alone Facebook broadcasts, the potential for TV-adjacent streams exists. No paid advertiser will scoff at nearly 200,000 extra eyeballs tacked onto a viewing audience of a television program.

Type of Broadcast

Early experimentation makes some of these Live streams difficult to categorize. However, two organic use cases prominently stood out over all others. First, the percentage of Q&A streams hovered around 60%. Even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has taken to hosting live Q&A’s on his profile. Why are Facebook Live publishers leaning towards the question and answer format? Perhaps because the allure of audience participation and interactivity strategically separates Facebook from TV. Q&A has existed prominently in radio and television simply because audiences love to learn what makes an icon tick. Likewise, Live is making early advances in breaking down barriers for fans.

The second most common type of Live was news, making up 28% of the videos observed. This included repurposed news shows and covering current events as they happen. Again, this is logical considering the general traction that news orgs have sustained on social networks. Teens loving unfiltered immediacy don’t wait for the 6 o’clock news. As a side note, only time will tell how Facebook will address some of the more graphic content that can be seen during news related live streams.

In conclusion, these variables suggest that Facebook Live streaming culminates into a differntiated video experience for content consumers. Shifts will continue as Facebook roles out video monetization programs, paid incentives for creators, and better ways to discover Live in a user’s timeline. The biggest differentiation between Facebook Live and other streaming services such as Periscope and Twitch is its enormous active user base. Beyond Q&A sessions and news, it will be exciting to see how these variables advance and how publishers are going to create new, meaningful and profitable content in the coming years.

Kyle Siegel served as Summer intern at BumeBox from June-August 2016. He currenlty attends Arizona State University.

Contact: kjsiegel@asu.edu