Facebook wants to be the home of live-streaming – though the emphasis on personal live-streaming may be losing some momentum, with Facebook more recently putting increased focus on broadcast-quality and professionally produced content over amateur posts.
That emphasis makes sense – Facebook’s faced a series of challenges with personal live-streams, including the broadcast of criminal content and self-harm, which is increasingly difficult to moderate or censor, given it’s happening in real-time.
There’s also long been questions about the quality of live-streams – while it’s great to give everyone the capacity to broadcast themselves and their experiences in real-time, being able to create entertaining, quality content, consistently, is a skill within itself, and not everyone can do it. If there’s too many low-quality streams, that lessens the viability of live-streaming overall, which could be another consideration in Facebook’s shift towards TV-style live videos.
In line with this, Facebook has announced two new Facebook Live features which both lean more towards boosting the entertainment value of streaming by providing new capacity for exposure and discussion, and adding more perspective and engagement within a stream.
The first addition is a new way to chat with friends via direct message within a live-stream.
As you can see from the above image, now, when you’re watching a stream, you can either comment within the public thread, or you can start your own chat with friends.
And importantly for Facebook, you can also bring other friends into the live-stream – in the image you can also see that there’s a green eye icon for the first two users listed, then the Messenger icon at the bottom right of the other avatars. The green eye indicates that those users are already watching the stream, while the others are not – you can now start a chat with non-viewers that will directly connect them to the stream, generating more exposure for Live content and enabling users to interact in a more personally relevant, intimate way.
You’ll also be able to jump back into the public conversation at any time, so you can get the best of both worlds.
Facebook says they’re testing this feature in several countries (mobile only for now), with a view to making it available more broadly ‘later this summer’.
The second addition is one which has been floating around for some time – the ability to bring in guests on your live streams.
As explained by Facebook:
“Last year we started rolling out the ability for public figures to go live with a guest. Now available for all profiles and Pages on iOS, Live With lets you invite a friend into your live video so you can hang out together, even if you’re not in the same place. Sharing the screen with a friend can make going live more fun and interactive — for both you and your viewers.”
To invite a guest to your broadcast, you select your desired guest from your Live viewers list, or tap on a comment from the viewer you want to add. The viewer will then have the option to join the broadcast or decline.
You also have the option to add guests in portrait mode (as shown in the video) or landscape, the latter giving the guest more screen space.
The ability to add in another user takes some of the pressure off when going live – as anyone who’s ever done a solo live-stream before knows, creating entertaining content when it’s just you staring into a camera is intimidating, and difficult. This was the main appeal of Blab, which let you broadcast with up to four users at a time, and is no doubt a significant element in the rise of group live streaming app Houseparty.
But not only does it reduce performance pressure, it also leads to more entertaining streams overall, as you’re less reliant on a single voice. By adding another perspective to the video, there’s a whole different dynamic, which can lead to more entertaining streams and a better user experience.
As noted, Facebook does appear to be shifting focus in live, with an increased focus on new, exclusive TV-type programming, including the recent addition of Major League Baseball broadcasts. Facebook hasn’t released a lot of specific data on live-stream usage, but it’s likely that they’re seeing similar adoption trends to other platforms – on Meerkat, for example, before the app’s demise, they had trouble attracting repeat broadcasters, which then made it even more difficult to keep viewers coming back (and worth noting, Meerkat had a similar guest feature called ‘Cameo’).
Again, the fact is that creating entertaining live-streams is hard – there’s a reason the same celebrities are chosen again and again to host live events.
While giving consumers capacity to stream is interesting, Facebook’s switch in focus would suggest that it’s not going to be the future of Live – there’s value to the option, but probably not in your everyday streamer. YouTube has avoided such concerns by limiting access to their live-streaming option, which seems odd on one hand – why would they want to fall behind in the video war by not giving access to all, like Facebook and Periscope have? But then again, YouTube hasn’t faced the same troubles with controversial content, and the focus on quality over quantity may actually benefit them in the long term, in the form of increased repeat viewership and better live content options.
That’s not to say Facebook’s going to roll back live access, or that they don’t see future benefit in it, but it is interesting to monitor the evolution of their live video approach, and to consider what that means for the future viability – and benefit – of the function.
Also, an extra new addition of note – Facebook’s now added their ‘floating’ video player for all desktop users.
Now, when you turn the sound on and/or play a video then scroll down, the video will continue to play and ‘follow’ you as you scroll. You can also drag and move the video window to wherever you like on screen.