Lights, camera, action: the unexpected rise of live online video

streaming mobile video

One of the most credible articles I’ve read this year on what’s happening with live online video appeared in the Guardian last week.

Written by Jerry Daykin, a global digital partner at Carat UK, the feature describes a complex landscape where live-video tools like Periscope, Facebook Live Video and Snapchat enable individuals to create and share content on-demand, yet highlights an issue that could have a big impact on how this landscape continues to evolve:

A growing problem for social platforms is not people’s willingness to watch video, but their ability to produce it – newsfeeds are increasingly dominated by video posts but few of them come from friends. Setting up, recording and uploading a video is a much bigger undertaking than just snapping a picture, and for all but the most spontaneous of moments it’s a process that requires more thought and effort that we’re willing to give, not to mention the pressure to produce something as good as professional content that is being shared.

While most users of Twitter and Facebook undoubtedly see these platforms as the means for engaging in conversation with their friends or the whole world via text messaging – rich text if we include the ability to embed images and video – Daykin writes that Facebook and Twitter are no longer simply text platforms but mobile video channels battling to turn consumers away from TV.

If live video streams succeed in getting more eyeballs to social platforms and keeping them there for longer, Daykin says, then that simply means there are more opportunities for marketers to communicate their own messages within that.

With cautionary notes throughout, Jerry Daykin makes a plausible case for the next wave of disruption that is fast approaching – one where the odds look more favourably on Facebook than on Twitter – and that presents clear opportunities for social marketers.

A good read starts below.


This article titled “Lights, camera, action: the unexpected rise of live online video” was written by Jerry Daykin, for theguardian.com on Monday 25th April 2016 09.05 UTC

Live online video seems to have shot unexpectedly to the top of the media industry’s priorities this month, but experts who missed the subject off their trends lists needn’t feel embarrassed. In a rare interview, Facebook’s senior management recently admitted that even they only saw the opportunity themselves when they were reviewing internal data back in February.

Twitter’s Periscope app is a perfect fit with its aspiration to be the best possible “live connection to culture” for users (and indeed for non-users), but its recently announced NFL live streaming sponsorship is a radical new play beyond that. Twitter will no longer just be a place to discuss the live TV you’re watching, it will be the place you go to watch that content in the first place.

Facebook’s own Live video launched last year for influencers, and its immediate success put its engineers into a five-week lockdown to build out new functionality rapidly, allowing them largely to achieve parity with Twitter’s more established offering. The newsfeeds of 1.6 billion users provide a huge audience for live video to play out through, and the launch of a new Live API allows this functionality to be built out into a wide range of services or even devices. Where Twitter will continue to have the advantage, though, is the higher percentage of those user streams that will be shared publicly and not just among friends.

However, it is misleading to call live video a new trend. Data from Pivotal Research Group shows that almost 80% of US video viewing still takes place through live TV, while digital video recorders account for 9%, and computers, mobiles and other devices represent just over 10% in total. For a long time, social platforms have experimented with being the “second screen”, but now they’re looking to go one further.

Live online video takes many forms – it can be professional broadcasts from studios, it can be behind-the-scenes footage, it can be citizen journalists, and it can of course be people sharing relatively throwaway moments in their lives. It’s hard to predict exactly what content will come to dominate, and so far an English puddle has captivated Periscope and more than 800k people watched Buzzfeed’s exploding water melon.

A person carrying a surfboard crosses a puddle
A person carrying a surfboard crosses the puddle outside Drummond Central in Newcastle upon Tyne, which became an internet sensation with tens of thousands of people watching it on Periscope. Photograph: Tom White/PA

A growing problem for social platforms is not people’s willingness to watch video, but their ability to produce it – newsfeeds are increasingly dominated by video posts but few of them come from friends. Setting up, recording and uploading a video is a much bigger undertaking than just snapping a picture, and for all but the most spontaneous of moments it’s a process that requires more thought and effort that we’re willing to give, not to mention the pressure to produce something as good as professional content that is being shared.

With this in mind there’s a slightly less optimistic perspective to be had on Facebook’s sudden live obsession – rather than just being an exciting new opportunity, it might represent a fix to a real problem. Recent reports have highlighted that original sharing (ie user-generated content) has been rapidly declining and this has the potential slowly to undermine the platform’s entire value proposition. At the recent Facebook developers’ conference executives acknowledged this trend, but argued that for the most part users were simply using a wider range of platforms (dominated by its other properties Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp) to communicate as well, and the amount of time all users spend on the platform continues to increase.

Live is the perfect antidote to this, because by its very nature it’s rough and unrehearsed. Mark Zuckerberg describes use of the feature as “a new, raw way that people wanted to share on a day-to-day basis. We’re seeing this especially with young people and teens.” This is a generation that finds the weight of perfectly curating their social presence so draining that they’re turning to places where they can instantly be forgotten, or at least private in their embarrassment. More than anything it’s this willingness to share fleeting live moments that has fuelled Snapchat’s growth, so while Facebook Live video may look like a rival to Periscope its target is perhaps more squarely aimed at that yellow messaging app.

Snapchat logo
Facebook Live video feature is aimed at taking on Snapchat. Photograph: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images

You can be sure that marketers will be jumping on this opportunity with events and stunts to generate live content. Some will succeed and become industry case studies, but there’s caution that live video’s rise doesn’t necessarily mean brands have to also start producing their own, which will often be a costly and impractical task. If live video streams succeed in getting more eyeballs to social platforms and keeping them there for longer then that simply means there are more opportunities for marketers to communicate their own messages within that.

Twitter’s Amplify product already allows advertisers to run pre-roll video in front of live content and they are turning that into a far more scalable product that can be activated against almost any video on the platform. In this way advertisers can be at the very heart of moments without having to create them themselves. Facebook will need to build out a clearer monetisation route but, until then, if Live is bringing people back to their newsfeeds more often then it’s already helping create more opportunities for traditional promoted posts to be shown.

If you’re still thinking about social media marketing purely as a way of engaging fans then you’re increasingly missing the point – truthfully, that’s a far smaller opportunity than reaching millions with rich storytelling content. The Facebooks and Twitters of today are no longer text update platforms to stay in touch with your friends, they’re mobile video channels that are gearing up for the biggest fight of their lives: the one where they try and persuade you to look away from your TVs.

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Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Paul Gray

    If there’s one thing that you can be sure of it’s that Facebook will develop a clearer monetisation route for live online video. What I think will be interesting to watch are which brands figure out how to use live video to tell the best stories. It’s worth figuring out now before the blogosphere is flooded with “Top 7 Ways To Get More Periscope Views” style articles.

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