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Facebook Live: A Progress Report After One Year of Growth
How are organizations such as PBS and TechCrunch using Facebook Live to reach and grow their audiences? The platform has been with us for a year now, so it's time to check in.
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The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is an American public broadcaster and television program distributor that recently began producing some live events with Telestream Wirecast. Renard T. Jenkins, VP of operations, answered our questions.

With the exception of the inability to stream captions during the Live events, the experience thus far with Facebook Live has been primarily positive. Live captioning capabilities would be a huge improvement for the platform and would probably generate more views during the initial distribution.

Oracle streamed multiple keynotes from Oracle OpenWorld on Facebook Live. Akira Wing is an internet broadcast engineer at Oracle but not an official Oracle spokesperson. Wing’s comments are not an endorsement of Facebook or Facebook Live.

The service worked smoothly, but there were some shortcomings we noticed in the setup and execution phase.

For instance, there is no redundancy; there is no backup-failover entry point. If the stream goes down for any reason, there will be an interruption in service. Each time we create and run a test or event, the Facebook UI generates a new streaming URL; we would prefer to keep the same streaming URLs with the entry points password protected.

There is no live support from Facebook; this is completely self-service. If there are issues on the player, CDN, or other Facebook-facing infrastructure, we are “on our own.” There was no contractual support available at this time. From a user perspective, there is not currently any mobile browser support. If you are viewing on a mobile device, you must find the live stream from within the Facebook App.

Oracle broadcasts keynotes from Oracle OpenWorld on Facebook Live.

Chang, McBeard: We always run into some kind of minor issue, but that is expected with such a new media format and working out kinks to a new type of execution. Internet bandwidth seems to be the most common issue because of the several channels the broadcast must go through.

Ignacia, Pro Watercross: Facebook Live distributes content very reliably, but Facebook has a strict copyright policy so if there are any copyrighted songs played during the broadcast (even a slight background sound from other audio sources such as a PA Radio), Facebook would shut you down immediately. This has occurred on a few occasions while I was broadcasting and the PA mic picked up an ambient song from a “boom box.” Facebook identified it as copyrighted content and immediately shut down my stream.

HAS FACEBOOK LIVE PROVIDED THE DESIRED BENEFITS?

Molnar, Twentyfourseven Films: Absolutely. I’ve definitely got 100 percent happy clients in the end, which is always what I want. For the Biffy Clyro stream, we had 1.2 million total views and about 100,000 simultaneous viewers. Even without the numbers, the most important thing is a smiling client at the end of it.

Brizuela and Puerta, King Jesus Ministry: Facebook Live has definitely delivered the desired benefits. It has brought live events to an online audience, in a more interactive manner that has benefited us and our followers. Our total amount of viewers in our largest event of the year was 158,000 unique viewers at the time we ended the event. On our first try it gave us a hiccup, but it has worked great ever since.

Maxworthy, Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks: Yes, with sports news content there are around 5–10 times more video views via Facebook Live than website VOD. There are increased challenges of live production (like accidental live mics during pre-roll), but that only increases authenticity. In terms of customer experience, fans feel much closer to the club and feel they have a much greater voice.

Chang, McBeard: Because the organic Facebook Live algorithm strongly rewards live videos, the benefits and results have been amazing. Organic reach is higher than ever, and it gives our clients a new challenge to continue to be forward-thinking.

Kevin Sullivan, The YES Network: When looking at it in a silo, Facebook Live has enabled the digital media department to produce high-quality video that reaches hundreds of thousands of users. That’s exciting to us. But on a bigger scale, and more importantly, it gives us another tool to help accomplish one of our chief goals, which is to drive tune-in to our network.

Brandon Sullivan: I’ve had great experience using Facebook Live. Even in situations where networks are stressed, I’ve been able to push a solid stream and connect with my users. I’ve hosted thousands of live viewers at once and then over 250K views after the storm, all while maintaining great quality, but also a steady stream of comments in real time, so I can answer questions and keep the audience informed and entertained.

Santos, FOX Sports Brasil: The Olympics demonstrated that FOX Sports can deliver exciting and exclusive content to everyone on broadcast and 24/7 channels, with a strong multiplatform publishing synergy. One example of that was when we featured Brazilian and Chilean hosts commenting on the Olympic Games, along with results and reactions to viewers’ questions during a daily 30–40 minute show on Facebook Live. Audiences instantly grew to six figures within mere minutes.

TechCrunch is a leading technology media property that uses Facebook Live for multiple events, including broadcasting streams from its Disrupt conferences. Ned Desmond, COO of TechCrunch, answered our questions.

We’ve seen concurrent viewership on Facebook Live for Disrupt hit 9,000 viewers, with a trickle-down effect of over 55,000 total views within a 48–72 hour period. According to Facebook’s own write-up, TechCrunch Disrupt New York received over 1.9 million video views, while TechCrunch San Francisco received 6.5 million views.

DO YOU SEE FACEBOOK LIVE BECOMING MORE IMPORTANT OR LESS IMPORTANT OVER TIME?

Jenkins, PBS: Our numbers continue to increase with each event that our programming department decides to stream. I think it will become more important over time because it is a direct avenue to our ever moving and ever mobile populations.

Molnar, Twentyfourseven Films: At the moment it’s important, but it would be foolish to say that Facebook Live is going to be around for a long time. I think the service will exist as long as Facebook exists, but on the scale of popularity I can’t see anything in this day and age lasting a long time.

Santos, FOX Sports Brasil: Facebook Live is only going to become more important over time. It is an evolution of the medium, but also one with innate power because of the integration of Facebook into users’ daily lives. People check their Facebook feeds before getting out of bed. There are only a handful of sites that share that type of intimate connection with their users.

Wing, Oracle: I see it as more important over time for external broadcasts as such a large portion of internet activity worldwide is on Facebook, and it only continues to grow.

Desmond, TechCrunch: Yes—more and more important. Facebook is becoming the new television. I wouldn’t be surprised if your entire Facebook feed is all video within the next 3 years.

Chang, McBeard: Facebook Live will grow more important over time because it is the most authentic way for brands to connect with their audiences on Facebook. Fans feel closer and more intimate to the things that interest them, and it also gives a “behind-the-scenes”-type feel to what they’re viewing. As brands start to be more in touch with their audience’s desires and viewing habits, they will use the Facebook Live experience more and more.

Behnke, Live X: More important—as it gains an even stronger foothold in people’s lives, it will be that much more important as a streaming destination. Brands have spent a lot of money over the years on their pages, and this gives them exposure and marketing they would not otherwise have had.

Krishna De: I am a little concerned that my feed will become increasingly filled with live streams from my Facebook friends that I am not interested in watching, especially as Facebook has rolled out an offline ad campaign in the U.S. and the U.K. to build awareness and increase adoption of Facebook Live streams. But I am not about to stop using other platforms for live video for my business.

Maxworthy, Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks: In the short to medium term yes for most, but as we all know there will be something new on the horizon, from Snapchat to private Messenger channels to games. Your typical Millennial audience is not on Facebook as much as their parents. Their content consumption is different, and publishers/brands need to fully understand this challenge.

[This article appears in the January/February 2017 issue of Streaming Media Magazine as "Facebook Live Grows Up."]

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