Narrative: Live video is the next big thing
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Narrative: Live Video is the Next Big Thing (Jan 24, 2017)
Written: January 24, 2017
It’s ironic that, at a time when live, linear television appears to be in decline, big tech companies are trying to convince themselves and their investors that live video is the next big thing, with Twitter and Facebook being the two prime examples.
Interestingly, these two companies have focused on different aspects of live video. Twitter has Periscope for user-generated live video, but in the core Twitter experience has largely focused on procuring rights to professionally produced content that already exists and is available elsewhere. Facebook, on the other hand, has mostly focused on the user-generated angle, but has paid celebrities and some brands to experiment with the format as a way of raising awareness. Both companies have pushed their live video features hard, with Facebook spending lots of money on real-world advertising to promote its feature to regular users.
The upshot so far is that Facebook’s efforts seem to have cost the company a lot with relatively little to show for it. There is evidence that it is ramping down spending on professional live video, which could be a sign that it feels it’s primed the pump adequately or that it’s failing to gain traction – I suspect it’s the latter. On the Twitter side, Periscope continues to chug along in its fairly marginal role, with a little more integration into the core Twitter product, while its professional content delivers some decent viewership.
My sense is that user-generated live video will only survive in a few niches, because ultimately ordinary people sharing their humdrum lives with each other isn’t all that compelling. That leaves celebrities, whose humdrum lives are nonetheless interesting enough for at least some people to watch, but who also get access to some far more interesting scenarios; exclusive live video from breaking news events where professional cameras aren’t present (sadly, this will often be things like terrorist attacks); professional and semi-professional content from those who make a living at this kind of thing – life and fitness coaches, YouTube celebrities, and the like.
That leaves us with the question of the role of professionally produced live content of the kind Twitter is licensing. The big downside for Twitter is that most of that content has few if any ad slots for Twitter to sell, meaning that it might capture additional eyeballs but not many additional revenue dollars. And at a time when live viewership of everything but sports (and recently even including sports) is declining, how long will a rising share of a shrinking market be a worthwhile opportunity to pursue?
This AdAge report on BuzzFeed’s coming Twitter live morning show is long on facts and short on analysis but nonetheless provides some interesting detail. It sounds like the show will be roughly an hour long and focused on covering the day’s news in a fairly lightweight and Twitter-centric way, and will feature four two-minute ad breaks featuring 30-second commercials. Because it’s BuzzFeed there will also be some sponsored editorial content within episodes, and because it’s Twitter some of the ads and related content will also be parceled up as shorter-form content for the platform. This is all, of course, part of Twitter’s broad expansion into live video with many different partners, and a good test of whether people actually have the time and inclination to watch something like this on Twitter, which I suspect for most people is something they dip in and out of rather than something they have permanently “on” in the way they might do with Twitter. The time slot reference in the article is vague – it merely says 10am, but doesn’t state which time zone that refers to, while earlier articles had suggested an 8am slot, which would put it extremely early in western time zones. 10am ET would certainly make more sense, catching at least some of the country in the pre-work slot when they’re more likely to be able to watch a live show than when they get to work.
Fox and Twitter Partner Around New and Returning Shows (Sep 20, 2017)
Fox Television and Twitter have announced a partnership around new and returning shows, which will see some episodes as well as new content broadcast through Twitter’s live video platform. Empire, one of the most popular shows on broadcast TV, will have a live pre-show featuring interviews and other material broadcast live on Twitter, while another returning show, The Mick, will have a mini-marathon broadcast on Twitter, and new show Ghosted will have its premiere episode broadcast live on Twitter four nights running this week. It’s an interesting attempt to create buzz and additional audiences on Twitter around shows which are currently watched almost entirely through traditional channels and more established streaming services, and will serve as a good experiment for both companies. In a world where much of viewing is moving on-demand, forcing live streaming feels a little contrived, and I’m curious to see how viewers respond to that. The Mick marathon will be shown fairly late in the evening, while Ghosted will debut in an early evening slot on Twitter, presumably to avoid conflicting with Fox’s own primetime lineup, though the Ghosted premiere it precedes the network premiere by a week and a half. We’re going to see lots more of this kind of experimentation over the next little while, and I’m guessing much of it will fall flat, but no doubt some useful concepts will come out of it, and the fan-type shows like the one Fox and Twitter are building around Empire seem the likeliest to take off, both because they’re exclusive to the platform and because other networks have already run these successfully – notably AMC’s Talking Dead.
Yesterday, Facebook announced a deal with Stadium to provide sports video content, and today Twitter made a very similar announcement. Stadium is a recently launched sports network which leverages Sinclair’s broadcasting infrastructure and streaming capabilities from Silver Chalice (a subsidiary of the Chicago White Sox organization) and in-studio talent from 120 Sports. Its sports rights are mostly for second-tier conferences, so there won’t be many high-profile games available, and essentially all the content is also available for free on Stadium’s own website and where broadcast. So there’s no exclusivity and little real value here and this is mostly about adding tonnage of live video on two platforms which are still in the early stages of that effort. The challenge in sports, of course, continues to be that the major rights are sewn up for years by big names from the TV industry, with rare exceptions like Thursday Night Football’s digital rights offering the only real opportunities to snag them in the near term. And yet sports is about the only must-have category of live TV left among these platform’s core audiences, leaving them in this awkward position of adding lots of marginal content just to check a sports box.
Facebook Secures TV Rights for Less Interesting Champions League Soccer Games Through Fox (Jun 27, 2017)
Facebook has been dabbling in sports rights here and there, and already has a deal for a twenty Major League Baseball games during the 2017 season. Now, it also has a deal to show some European Champions League games in the US through Fox, which owns the TV rights. The games Facebook shows will be the the lower profile ones which aren’t shown on live TV but which have been available through Fox’s streaming apps. Given that the focus is on these lower-tier games, it also has no rights to the last two rounds of the tournament, which features the top club soccer teams from throughout Europe. The article here from Bloomberg talks up the amount of social activity around soccer on Facebook, but of course the US is famously resistant to soccer, so only a fraction of the overall numbers relate to the US specifically. I certainly count myself among those who watch the Champions League here in the US, but almost exclusively the top-tier team I support, which almost certainly won’t be featured in any of the games Facebook shows. And that’s the challenge here – this deal sounds good in principle, and for any fans of relatively obscure European teams who happen to be living in the US (or who watch soccer indiscriminately regardless of the teams playing) this might be a nice value-add on Facebook. But this doesn’t seem likely to attract much bigger audiences than the MLB games on Friday nights.