Coming to a Screen Near You:
Facebook TV

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It’s been clear for quite some time that Facebook has ambitions in the video space, but over the past six months their plans have begun to crystallize. The implications for content creation and distribution are seismic: if you’re a Multichannel Video Program Distributor (MVPD) – be afraid, very afraid. If you’re a content creator the world is becoming a better place day by day.

A major step was the significant upgrade Facebook Live received back in April with the launch of an API that enabled professional quality streaming video along with interactive features and monetization through Facebook’s branded content tool. New features are being added to that API all the time and usage is growing exponentially. Live events – particularly sport – is the last great bastion of cable subscriptions and appointment to view TV. If Facebook and other social networks make inroads into that business and the associated ad revenues, it will be a significant blow to the traditional players.

Well guess what, most major sports leagues and broadcasters have quickly jumped on board – as well as talent, individual show brands, live events, sports teams and athletes who already have substantial user bases built up on Facebook. No longer is Facebook a supplementary “nice to have” extra, it’s becoming a “must have” that can complement existing content networks with significant traffic and, increasingly, replace them.

Getting these live streams up and running is almost too easy – with a camera, a decent internet connection and publishing capability via the API, one-man-bands and major content owners can begin streaming whatever they like. Whether it’s a live selfie cam, breaking news, sporting event, or branded content, the platform can intake anything, distribute it quickly, and present it in a way that drives viral promotion and audience engagement.

Just recently, Facebook Live streamed the first 11 minutes of season two of “Narcos” – in 14 countries, in 10 languages, including subtitles. Facebook also partnered with the celebrity-driven Stand Up 2 Cancer charity, broadcasting from behind the scenes of the famous telethon. Pop sensation Fifth Harmony hosted a live stream that announced their new album as well – and saw over ten million impressions. Fox News and CNN are already using the platform to reach new, old, and young audiences alike with calls to action, viewer engagement mechanics (such as polling, voting, comments to air, and the like), the next step may be to simulcast some of their live breaking news to social media platforms in real-time. The scale and impact are undeniable.

With a few simple steps and at relatively low cost, Facebook pages just got a whole lot richer for owners and visitors alike, delivering a notification to fans to tune in immediately in order to better activating the user base. For Facebook, new mechanics and more robust tools help address two perceived weaknesses: that it’s not primarily a video platform (with all that comes with that in terms of monetization potential), and that that it’s not real-time – subscribers go there when they feel like it and catch up on news that may now be out of date, rather than to experience something “in the moment.”

More recently, Facebook has started to roll out a video button to some users on its mobile application – rumor has it this will eventually replace the Messenger tab for all subscribers – to more directly drive traffic to their live video content as well as VOD. This provides a hub for Facebook’s algorithm to surface content to you based on trending-type information, and solve one of the big issues on the platform: discovery. Now, viewers won’t have to seek out popular content – what’s trending, what people are talking about, and what’s most important to know “now” will be readily available at the tap of a screen.

Video – and live streaming, particularly – are major priorities on Facebook’s roadmap, and anyone on the brand and content ownership side of the equation is well aware of their weight in the digital video space – so what’s next? Firstly, while Facebook is a great promotional vehicle, it will have to open up more way for monetization and revenue share with content providers. This will ensure that high volumes of premium content are secured, and will serve to attract content creators to Facebook that currently use other platforms as their primary distribution platform. Facebook’s branded content tool, excellent analytics and retargeting capability are already available via the API, and I’d be surprised if other methods for monetization aren’t available within 12 months.

Once it does that, it will have that “other platform” – YouTube – firmly in its sights. The opportunities are wide – Facebook has the scale, deep data insights, and ad network to launch as a fully-fledged TV service. If Netflix’s algorithm is clever in the way it learns about us and recommends programming, imagine what Facebook could do to drive content discovery and consumption with the information it’s got from 1.8bn users’ likes and preferences, plus its distribution power? This also goes beyond the blue button – think about Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp too.

We’re on the precipice of the next phase of live television – by offering access to its massive global reach, creating a rich and real-time content medium and harnessing the power of user engagement – Facebook has all the pieces in place. In one fell swoop, they’ve launched a powerful vehicle for media owners and brands to effectively promote and distribute their content – providing event TV with an entirely new funnel and ecosystem built into one. The last piece of the puzzle is monetization – once those floodgates open, it really is game on.

Jason George is the CEO of Telescope. Their Live Studio platform powers Facebook Live streaming: http://telescope.tv/livestudio



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