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.
This is an interesting next potential step in Twitter’s push into live video. So far it’s focused on licensing video to show to all visitors (or at least all visitors in a particular country), with one of the big selling points being that users don’t have to hunt through a channel guide, authenticate themselves through a pay TV service, or jump through other hoops. What Twitter is betting on now is that users might be willing to authenticate themselves through a pay TV provider in return for the smaller benefit of watching video and related tweets in a single window, something I’m not sure users will go for. Twitter has, at least, made that tweet curation experience better in recent months, which may increase the attractiveness somewhat, but I suspect a big attraction for the other live video Twitter has shown was that it was free and painless. As anyone who’s used other TVE solutions knows, those words generally don’t apply.
Like Facebook, Twitter is pushing ads into more and more places, including videos on its platform, in an attempt to drive ad growth at a time when that rate of growth has been slowing. In Facebook’s case, the slowdown is due to saturating ad load, whereas for Twitter it’s a combination of anemic user growth and ineffective ad formats. Pre-roll ads for live video are likely to be a bit of a turnoff for users, but if the video is important (and long) enough then they may just put up with them anyway. But this is yet another sign that Twitter is willing to try lots of new things when it comes to finding new sources of revenue, on top of last week’s reports about testing a paid subscription service.
via The Verge
Facebook, Amazon, Twitter and YouTube are bidding to stream the NFL’s Thursday night games – Recode (Mar 24, 2017)
When Twitter won these rights last time around in their first year as a separate set from television rights, it turned out to be something very different from what many of us expected. Rather than a massive splurge on a very valuable set of rights, it turned out that the winner merely got the right to show the games along with advertising mostly already sold by broadcasters, meaning there was very little additional revenue opportunity, and as such Twitter got the rights for a paltry $10 million. These NFL games have actually been a good fit with Twitter’s overall live strategy, which has mostly been focused on winning audiences rather than lots of new revenue, but it seems others are interested in taking another crack this year. It would obviously fit well with Facebook’s recent push into professionally produced live video, but also with YouTube’s recent investment in e-sports rights and with Amazon’s foray into TV bundles and Twitch video streaming. It’s less of a good fit with Apple’s current focus in the TV space, so it’s not surprising that its name doesn’t appear here. I’ll be very interested to see if the NFL is pitching the same kind of package as last time or whether the winning bidder will have the right to sell more of its own ads this time around.
Facebook’s livestreaming strategy looks a lot like Twitter’s livestreaming strategy – Recode (Mar 14, 2017)
In my Techpinions Insiders post last week, I wrote about Facebook and Twitter’s respective live video strategies, and argued that this is one area where Twitter might actually be executing on the better strategy, namely focusing on existing high quality live video rather than trying to force user-generated content. This piece today confirms the conclusion of my piece in which I said Facebook should probably be doing more of this kind of thing. However, I also said that it was still unclear how well Twitter was monetizing the video it was licensing, given that most of the ads had already been sold by the original owners. The other challenge, as this piece makes clear, is that the video owners willing to partner with Twitter in this way are mostly those either with small audiences they’re keen to grow, or whose distribution isn’t the primary way they monetize, which tends to mean it isn’t the best or most exciting live content available. Meanwhile, the most compelling live video – major sports – remains largely off limits to online-only broadcasters. That’s not to say Facebook couldn’t bid for NFL rights as Twitter did last year, but those Thursday night games are such a tiny slice of the overall sports schedule in the US that it’s hard to see how it could be a central plank of an overall live video strategy.
There’s some really good reporting here, and it reinforces my sense that Facebook’s live video push hasn’t panned out the way it would have wanted despite its massive investment. I continue to believe that mass market live video has very limited appeal, largely because most of us don’t spend most of our time in situations which are worthy of (or appropriate for) broadcasting to our hundreds of friends. Yes, there are occasions when user-generated live video is uniquely placed to offer something no other medium can, but those are rare and not the basis for a widely used mainstream product. It’s still intriguing to me to see Facebook push so hard for individuals to share and consume amateur video, while Twitter has balanced its Periscope investment with a focus on high quality professional live video, including sports – easily the most compelling form of live content around for most users. This is one area where Twitter’s strategy feels smarter than Facebook’s, and it’s therefore not that surprising that Facebook seems to be experimenting more with live sports video as well.
It looks like Twitter debuted a new Top Commentary tab in its live video screen last night for President Trump’s address to Congress. This should have been there from the beginning – the uncurated selection of tweets that has been shown against most live video since it launched on Twitter has been an unusable mess, and this new tab is a huge improvement. For the first time, this actually demonstrates the value of a curated stream of top tweets for a real-time event, something most active users of Twitter likely already grasp, but new users tuning in for a live video event don’t. Showing them the value – and power – of watching a well selected stream of tweets in real time is critical to converting them to active users of the platform. But of course Twitter should be doing this kind of real-time curation constantly for major topics across the site, especially given that it appears the feature is algorithm-driven, which means it’s much more scalable than something curated by human beings.
Live video is already a big deal at YouTube, but streaming live video from a mobile device has been surprisingly late in YouTube’s rollout of the feature. Now, it’s finally making it available to channel owners with over 10,000 subscribers, after testing it for months with a smaller group of creators. This feels like a smart way to start, even if it’s somewhat ironic that the video platform known for user generated content will close the feature off to regular users, at least for the time being. If the quality of the early live video on YouTube is good, it could do much better than on Facebook, where most of the live video I’ve seen has been pretty poor, and feels more like spam in my feed than a useful addition. YouTube seems to be sensibly prioritizing quality over quantity here. The monetization angle is interesting – mid-roll ads are always interruptive, and YouTube appears to be focusing on paid comments, a much more unique model and one which doesn’t detract from the video itself. I’m very curious to see how much that feature gets used, though Google will never tell us how much money it makes this way.