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Behind the Scenes at Facebook Live: Architecting a Success

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Beyond these milestones, we are always looking for new ways to improve the interactivity and authenticity of Live. In the past few months, we announced new features to help people enjoy video content and for publishers to better connect with their communities.

For example, in May 2018, we announced new tools for publishers: Persistent Stream Keys, Crossposting, and Live Rewind.

  • Persistent Stream Keys: Publishers and creators who frequently use the Live API have requested a more simplified streamsetup process, and we’ve rolled out the ability to use a persistent stream key with an encoder when going live on Facebook. This means if you’re a publisher or creator that goes live regularly, you now only need to send one stream key to production teams, and because a Page’s stream key is permanent, it can be sent in advance of a shoot, making it easier to collaborate across teams and locations for live productions. Broadcasters can also save time by using the same stream key every time they start a new Live video.
  • Live Crossposting: We’ve heard from many of our partners that crossposting helps amplify the reach of prerecorded videos to audiences across all of their Pages, and now this is possible for live video too. With Live Crossposting, all Pages globally can seamlessly publish a single broadcast across multiple Pages as an original post. We’ve added this functionality to both our Publisher Tools on Pages and the Live API.
  • Live Rewind: We’re starting to test the ability for viewers to rewind Live videos from Pages while they’re live. We’ve heard from viewers that they want be able to re-watch incredible moments or catch up on ones they missed—like a big play in a sports game or a crucial moment during a show—without losing out on the Live experience.
  • Music on Live: We’ve also partnered with music companies around the world to bring music to more experiences on Facebook.

In June 2018, we announced new ways for people to express themselves with music in their posts, including a new feature, Lip Sync Live. With Lip Sync Live, you can express yourself with music from a variety of genres in real time.

Beyond that, we’re exploring even more ways to bring music to Facebook. Together with the music industry, we are working to enable user to include music in their videos on Facebook, opening up more options for creativity and sharing memories with friends and family. We’re testing this in several markets now and look forward to making it available more broadly soon. In the coming months, we’ll start testing options for adding the music you love to Facebook Stories as well. More to come!

SM: What do you see as the key revolutionary features of the product (if any)? Why?

CAPRA: Live was built initially inside the main Facebook app, which allowed broadcasters to connect with a larger number of viewers. We also handled the celebrity use case well by creating broadcasting safeguards, ranked comments to maintain a high-quality comment stream, and built a bespoke notification framework to handle scale with low latency.

Additionally, a large part of the infrastructure for Facebook Live was very reusable. This reusability enabled us to ship Instagram Live in a shorter timeframe.

SM: What features did you feel that you absolutely had to get right? Why? Did you get them right?

CAPRA: We had to get the broadcaster experience right. In our view, there are three core things broadcasters care about—broadcast reliability, interaction with their audience, and audience size. So we focused a lot on broadcast quality, comment quality, and discovery levels. We succeeded initially on the latter two and fast followed with the first as we learned more at scale about network behavior.

SM: Can you describe the launch? What was the first live public broadcast? Any drama? What are some impressive launch statistics for the first few months?

MATHUR: Launching any new product is always scary and exciting at the same time. We had done a lot of due diligence and design thinking to make sure that the product would work at scale, but there is no real way to test this at our scale. The only real way to test it is to launch it in production.

We debated a lot on our launch strategy— should it be staggered or simultaneous, which geographies? We went with a gradual launch strategy, learned from issues we experienced, and then aggressively expanded from there.

CAPRA: Some notable broadcasts in the last year included activity around Hurricane Harvey and the Ariana Grande One Love Manchester concert. Specifically, as Hurricane Harvey continued in Houston, we saw an extremely active support group form—people about needs for rescue, info about donation info, and real-time updates via Live. Within 5 days of the group forming, more than 400 people went Live in the group and more than 1,000 other videos were posted.

While the Ariana Grande One Love Manchester concert came out of a tragedy, fans of Ariana Grande as well as the other talent performing came together as a community to watch the concert via Facebook Live, interacted with each other, and donated directly to the One Love Manchester fund. In the first 24 hours, more than 22,000 people donated more than $450,000, and the broadcast received more than 76 million views, 2.5 million reactions (with “Love” being the most popular reaction), more than 400,000 comments, and more than 750,000 shares.

SM: How important is Facebook Live to Facebook in general? Again, is it just another feature, or is it a key strategic initiative?

CAPRA: Facebook has always been a social place, and through Live, we learned how truly social the video experience on Facebook can be. We’re focused on building the best ways to connect with the people and communities that matter to them. Live is a core driver of that.

If we look at the stats from users—3.5 billion Live broadcasts, the fact that it generates six times as many interactions as regular videos, and the fact that the average number of daily Live broadcasts has doubled year-over-year since 2016—all this points to Live as being a very significant offering to Facebook.

SM: Looking forward, what can we expect from the platform, both business-wise and technology-wise? Will we start to see channels? 24/7 managed feeds? 4K?

CAPRA: We’ve started bringing the magic of Live to other experiences on Facebook, and have launched Watch Parties to all groups and are seeing exciting usage so far. We’re looking to continue to roll out interactive, real-time experiences across a number of new use cases.

MATHUR: We will continue to make deep infrastructural investments across the stack to improve visual quality and experience while pushing on reducing viewer latency and increasing processing, storage, serving, and watching efficiency. We are working hard to make sure Live works better in poor/variable connectivity to reach all of our user communities.

[This article appears in the September 2018 issue of Streaming Media magazine as "Behind the Scenes at Facebook Live."]

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