Facebook & Live Video : Broadcast Will Never Be The Same Again

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“The big decision we made was to shift a lot of our video efforts to focus on Live, because it is this emerging new format; not the kind of videos that have been online for the past five or ten years” (Mark Zuckerberg, BuzzFeed)

This week Facebook introduced a suite of new add-ons to its Live feature that allows users to live-stream video. When Facebook announces a new feature, the world usually listens, or in this case watches. In the few months since Facebook Live was launched millions of live streams have been produced and subscribed to, from celebrities to chefs to everyday users.

Facebook’s announcement is the clearest sign yet that there is major disruption going on. Where once upon a time this live video phenomenon was referred to as streaming, it is now referred to as broadcasting. This is no accident or language quirk. The definition of broadcasting has evolved so considerably, to the point where every individual, brand and media entity is a potential broadcaster.

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Facebook has spent months moving closer towards the live broadcasting space, behind services such as Snapchat, Twitter’s Periscope and also Meerkat. What’s most interesting is not only how popular live video has been – at TokBox we are well versed in the power of live video. Nor is it the fact that there is a long tail of interest in the service – not just celebrities but regular people, who go on to become live broadcasting celebrities within these new services.

What’s most interesting is the emerging level of interactivity within these live broadcasts. Snapchat and Periscope have long allowed emoji and text based responses during live broadcasts. They recognized that passive watching of any format, even live video, doesn’t satisfy the attention spans of today’s audience.

In its latest update Facebook followed suit with the introduction of Live Reactions, making it easier for viewers to “share their emotions.” Appealing to the ephemeral nature of the audience, these reactions come and go throughout the broadcast.

This is just the next step into what we believe is the inevitable truly interactive broadcast experience – where multiple participants can chat together and broadcast to the audience. At this stage, while live video broadcast is very exciting, it is still largely one way and passive.  Emojis and comments are great, but what about being able to react, via video, in the same moment as the action you’re watching? Or being able to co-consume broadcasts with friends, all on video together.

The challenge this presents from a technical perspective is non-trivial. It’s hard enough to get one stream working on the myriad endpoints out there (this piece did a great job of covering that issue). But with WebRTC (and a soon to be announced platform update from TokBox) this power will now be in the hands of every brand, broadcaster and entertainer.

And the traditional broadcasters are responding. Fox Sports has launched The Huddle for College Football, MLB has Chatting Cage, and even the NFL has offered up NFL rights to Twitter. Engagement is the centerpiece of broadcast now, and this necessitates the adoption of new digital platforms.

This latest move by Facebook to embrace live video is part of the ongoing blurring of the lines between social commentary and interactive broadcast. As these markets converge, it is a great motivation for us, the providers of the underpinning technology, to keep innovating and building products that create experiences that people love.

As the Facebooks, Twitters, Meerkats, Fox’s and MLBs of this world push the boundaries of fan engagement; as standards such as WebRTC enable new formats and interactive channels; and as platforms like OpenTok move into markets like broadcast, you can be sure there is change in the wind.

If you’re ABC, Comcast, or Verizon – you better be watching this space.