Before Periscope and Meerkat jumpstarted the mobile live-streaming craze, Facebook was already quietly working on its own way to let public figures broadcast live videos to their fans. Today, Facebook is launching “Live” as a feature in its Mentions app that’s only available to celebrities with a verified Page.
VIPs can start a Live broadcast that’s posted to the News Feed, watch comments overlaid in real-time on their stream, and then make the recording permanently available for viewing. Stars like The Rock and Serena Williams will stream today.
As for when the average user might get broadcast abilities, Live product manager Vadim Lavrusik wouldn’t say, but told me “We think this will be an awesome experience for both public figures and also users. We want to get feedback from both public figures and viewers as we evolve the product.”
Why should celebrities use Facebook Live instead of Periscope or Meerkat? Lavrusik tells me “Public figures already have fans on Facebook that they share to every single day.” Essentially, reach. With huge fan counts on Facebook, celebrities could see a wider audience there than on other networks.
Another reason: videos don’t disappear. They’re immediately deleted on Meerkat and only live for 24 hours on Periscope (though you can save them to your camera roll). But Lavrusik tells me 53 percent of Facebook video views come from re-shares, which would probably happen after a broadcast ends.
Broadcasters can delete their videos if they want to keep them off-the-cuff and ephemeral, but otherwise the auto-published Live feed story will turn into a traditional video. That might make VIPs feel like recording Live streams is worth their time.
While Facebook has never been great at real-time content due to its filtered News Feed, it’s worked to make sure Live broadcasts reach viewers while they’re still in progress. Beyond appearing quickly in the feed to a celeb’s subscribers, Facebook will send push alerts to tune into the broadcast to users who’ve recently interacted with that Page. This should trigger big audiences without annoying people who Liked an actor or athlete years ago and don’t really care.
“We actually got feedback from public figures wanting to do live video even before we launched Mentions” in July 2014, Lavrusik tells me. Mentions was originally designed to help celebrities monitor and respond to the piles of wall posts and mentions they receive. But stars kept telling it live video “is the most intimate and authentic way to interact with my fans.”
A small team in Facebook’s Menlo Park’s headquarters started working on Live in September. Meerkat launched in February, followed by Periscope in April. Despite everyone asking what Facebook would do in the space, it kept quiet, refining the commenting experience — something the Periscope team also spent months perfecting. The end product offers advanced moderation options to keep Live streams clean.
When a celebrity with Mentions starts a broadcast, a video with the Live tag goes out on the News Feed. There, viewers can watch and comment. But to avoid overwhelming the broadcaster, Facebook only pushes comments onto their screen at a steady, readable pace, and celebs can turn off seeing comments altogether. Vulgar comments will automatically be hidden, and broadcasters can add words to their Page’s moderation blacklist if there are topics they don’t want to talk about.
To keep Live shows friendly, Facebook will show if one of your friends starts watching, and broadcasters will see if another verified celebrity hops on. One thing lacking is a way to share a stream while it’s in progress.
When broadcasters end the stream, the News Feed story and video stay around but lose the Live tag. Viewers can rewatch the video indefinitely, but they’ll see comments as a traditional reel below the video rather than overlaid. That could make for a disjointed experience if broadcasters discuss the comments on the stream that aren’t shown in real-time on the recording.
If Facebook can use the same reach that attracted celebrities in the first place to invade live-streaming, it could create tons of compelling video content to fill its feed and mask its ads.
While some users might be bitter that they can’t stream on Facebook Live yet, it could actually prevent users from getting sick of the feature. Periscope and Meerkat are plagued by users sending crappy “Hello world” or “Here’s my breakfast” streams that annoy their friends with notifications. Letting only celebrities use it first could teach users when they have a moment worth streaming.