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.
Twitter Hires Former Bloomberg Exec to Lead Live Video (May 22, 2017)
Twitter already has a deal with Major League Baseball to stream some games, and now it appears Facebook has a similar arrangement. The latter will broadcast 20 Friday-night games throughout the season. Given other recent deals for major sports, including Twitter’s last year for Thursday night NFL games, that might sound like a lot, but of course there are 30 teams in the MLB, each of which plays 162 regular season games, which means that including the postseason there are nearly 2500 games in total each year, so Facebook will air less than 1% of the total. And I’m guessing Friday night games have among the lowest viewership of any games, so this feels like a low-risk proposition for MLB and an experiment at best for Facebook. For viewers, too, the chances that Facebook will be showing the one game your team is playing in any given Friday night will be slim. But this feels like a good step for Facebook as it both scales up its live broadcast offerings and feels out what the audiences will be like for sports on Facebook.
Mark Zuckerberg today announced that Facebook will be hiring 3,000 additional people (on top of the 4,500 it already has in this area) to work on reviewing content, in light of several recent horrific events that have taken place or been promoted on its live video platform. There have been calls for Facebook to shut down or severely limit its live video capability because of the murders and suicides which have been broadcast or bragged about on the platform, but that’s always felt a little overly heavy-handed to me. This approach is much more in line with what I’ve proposed, which is that Facebook needs better reporting tools and a more rapid response to those reports. Later today we’ll get an update on total employee numbers, but as of the end of 2016 Facebook had 17,000, meaning that its 4,500-strong existing team was already a quarter of total employees. Even if Facebook’s total headcount grows on the past trend line, 7,5000 employees in this area would make up around a third of its employees, which is remarkable. As Facebook dives deeper into hosting its own content, it’s having to spend inordinate amounts of money and employee time policing that content, something I suspect it didn’t fully anticipate when it embarked on this strategy a few years ago.
★ Twitter Announces a Dozen New Video Deals (May 1, 2017)
Last week, the day before Twitter’s earnings, it briefed BuzzFeed on its plans for 24/7 live video, and this week it’s announcing that it will achieve that objective at least in part through an expanded partnership with Bloomberg. But whereas Twitter has so far just carried the standard Bloomberg stream, this new partnership will have at least some exclusive content and also apparently a broader coverage than the existing, very business news-oriented, channel. As of when I’m writing, all the details aren’t out yet, but the channel is to begin airing sometime in the fall. This is an interesting partnership, but I reiterate what I said last week, which is that just having content is not the same as having compelling content, and even if there’s an exclusive element to this Bloomberg deal, business news or even news in general doesn’t quite fit the bill. I’m intrigued to see the details here, but as of right now I have a hard time seeing this make a big difference to Twitter’s smallish live video audience (just 14% of its monthly active users watched even 2 seconds of one live video last quarter), let alone its overall growth or ability to monetize its audience better.
Update (3:40pm MT): Bloomberg and Twitter have now announced some more details around the new channel, and it’s an interesting idea: become the breaking news network that takes what’s happening on Twitter and curates and verifies the information before feeding it out in a live TV show. Given how central Twitter is to the 24/7 news cycle already, I’m not convinced this is new and different, and if the emphasis here is on verification (certainly not a bad thing) it may actually mean the in-house network is slower to break news than CNN etc. One of the big problems with 24/7 news coverage is also always the challenge of filling time and keeping viewers engaged, which lends itself to sensationalism (to make unimportant stories seem important) and lots of filler material (because there’s never always something newsworthy going on). It’ll be interesting to see if Bloomberg and Twitter can collectively overcome these two, because otherwise we’re just getting yet another always-on news channel with little to differentiate it. The proof is totally going to be in the pudding with this one.
Twitter Aiming to Broadcast Live Video Full Time in Future (Apr 25, 2017)
This is an interesting announcement to make the night before earnings. Twitter broadcast 800 hours of live video in the first quarter, but it’s aiming to broadcast 24/7 eventually, which would be a roughly threefold increase in video just to have a single stream full time, let alone to give people options. And though this piece talks up the idea of being the equivalent to CNBC in airports, the whole value proposition of the latter is that you have nothing better to do. For Twitter to do well with live video, it needs compelling content, not just ambient content. And that’s tough to do when the vast majority of sports rights are sewn up for years to come and Twitter just lost one of the few available packages to Amazon. Beyond sports, there’s not much live content that’s compelling enough for people to tune into deliberately and importantly to watch through a commercial break. Color me skeptical that this effort will make a big difference to Twitter’s user base or its ability to monetize it. Live video still feels like an interesting complement to Twitter’s core value proposition rather than being central to it, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Facebook is Now Paying Companies to Produce Non-Live Video (Apr 22, 2017)
Facebook Takes 3 Hours to Remove Video of Murder (Apr 17, 2017)
A Facebook user apparently committed a murder on Sunday and claimed to be in the process of committing several more while streaming on Facebook Live video, but Facebook failed to take the video down for three hours afterwards. This certainly isn’t the first time something gruesome has been live streamed on Facebook, and the company has dealt with past situations both poorly and inconsistently. On the one hand, it’s clearly against its policies to broadcast something as disturbing as this, so taking the videos down should be simple from a policy perspective. But in some cases, it’s been accused of taking down videos which – despite their content – were enormously newsworthy, and therefore engaging in censorship. In this case, it seems baffling that Facebook didn’t take the video down much sooner, but it raises much bigger issues about how to police live video, which by definition has often done its damage before anyone at Facebook is even aware of it. Given YouTube’s recent struggles with monitoring non-live video for inappropriate content, one can only imagine the challenges involved in monitoring video in real time. Certainly, Facebook needs better tools for flagging such content and faster response times when videos are flagged, at the very least.
Update: Facebook has now responded, and says it’s going to do exactly what I said in that last line: that is, improve its flagging tools and shorten response times. It also posted a complete timeline. Worth a read.
Twitter today announced Custom Hearts, an equivalent of sorts to Snapchat’s Sponsored Filters product for advertisers. Advertisers can now use the Custom Hearts product to replace the standard heart icon that users use to show appreciation for a live video stream in Periscope or Twitter with a brand image of some kind. The example used here is the movie franchise The Fast and the Furious using “F8” as an alternative to promote its eighth film, which premiered over the weekend. It’s a lot subtler than Snapchat’s Sponsored Filters, and it doesn’t have the same social multiplier effect of users applying a sponsored filter to a picture or video and sharing it with their friends, but it’s good to see Twitter innovating to find new forms of advertising given its recent struggles with growing ad revenue. More importantly, it’s also doing more with analytics, something I’ll cover in a second post shortly.
This is the first real quantification we’ve had of live video which puts it in context of Facebook’s overall video volumes, and on the face of it looks pretty good. For one fifth of all video shared on the platform to be live is impressive. On the other hand, I’m not sure how much video I see shared on Facebook by my own friends, but it’s not that much, so perhaps between regular users and brands and so on that makes a certain amount of sense. I’d be far more curious to know what percentage live makes up of video consumed on Facebook, because I suspect that’s a far smaller number, and arguably that number matters a lot more than what’s uploaded. After all, Facebook only really benefits from the viewing end of the equation.
This is an interesting outcome to this bidding process, with perhaps the most interesting part being the price to be paid by Amazon, which is five times what Twitter paid for the equivalent rights last year. I had wondered if the NFL was going to let the winning broadcaster sell more of its own ads, which would have justified a higher price, but as that doesn’t seem to be the case it looks more likely that the higher price was the result of a bidding war. If I recall correctly, Twitter was said not to have been the highest bidder last time around, so it’s possible both that Amazon (and possibly others) bid more and that the NFL decided to go with the higher bidder this time. From Amazon’s perspective, the deal certainly fits with two existing initiatives: its increasing focus on TV and in particular live TV, and its slow but steady push into advertising. The big issue Amazon has with TV at this point is that its efforts are spread over two very different brands and channels, namely Twitch and Prime. At some point, the aggregation strategy that’s served its Channels business well will likely make sense in live TV too. But broadcasting live TV is a great opportunity to market Amazon hardware products to a captive video audience as well.