Facebook Inc Challenges Alphabet And Twitter With Enhanced Live Video

  • Facebook is launching Facebook Live Video streaming for everyone, with new impressive social features.
  • Live Video will strengthen not only Facebook's leadership in social media, but also its emerging position as a social TV network.
  • Live Video will permit selling more advertisements, which is Facebook's core business.

Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) announced that it is launching Facebook Live Video streaming for everyone, with new features to discover, share, and interact with live video, and personalize live broadcasts. Using Facebook Live is very simple, but the feature is being rolled out gradually.

"Live is like having a TV camera in your pocket," said Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg. "Anyone with a phone now has the power to broadcast to anyone in the world. When you interact live, you feel connected in a more personal way. This is a big shift in how we communicate, and it's going to create new opportunities for people to come together."

Live video streaming on Facebook was first launched in the summer of 2015 to public figures, then opened to all users with a verified profile via the Facebook Mentions app for Android and iOS. Now Facebook is enabling video streaming to all users of the standard Facebook mobile app, without the need to download a separate app, and without the need of getting the user profile verified by Facebook. Profile verification, which requires sending a scanned id to Facebook, is reasonably straightforward and fast, but it represents a barrier to some users. By removing verification, Facebook shows that it wants to open live video as wide as possible.

An important new feature is the ability to broadcast live video in Facebook Groups and Facebook Events. "Live in Groups allows you to broadcast to just the people in the Facebook Group - so you can go live in your family group, or share a workout plan in a fitness group," notes the Facebook announcement. "Live in Events means you can go live from a birthday party to allow those that can’t make it to join the fun... You can even use Events to schedule a live Q&A session. We hope this new ability to both broadcast and watch live video within Groups and Events enables people to connect more deeply with their closest friends, family and the communities of people who share their interests."

Broadcasters can receive and answer questions and comments from other users via the mobile app or the desktop. The new Live Reactions feature lets viewers use the familiar Facebook reaction icons - Like, Love, Haha, Wow, Sad or Angry - in real-time during a broadcast. Live Reactions appear in real time and disappear quickly to permit sensing the mood of the audience. "It’s like hearing the crowd applaud and cheer," notes the Facebook announcement. These social aspects of live video make it a dangerous competitor to traditional TV broadcasters.

Twitter (NYSE:TWTR), IBM (NYSE:IBM), and Alphabet Inc-A (NASDAQ:GOOGL) are Facebook's main competitors in the live video streaming sector.

Twitter's Periscope was arguably the first video streaming app to achieve mass usability and appeal, and captured ten million users in just four months from the launch. Periscope, whose potential has been described as "the new TV," not only permits streaming family moments from one's living room, but also broadcasting current events live. Politicians are starting to use Periscope - including Donald Trump, who hosted some Periscope broadcasts. But Facebook live streaming is arguably better integrated with the rest of Facebook than Periscope with Twitter, and some Facebook users are beginning to use live video streaming to connect with their friends and followers. Now, all Facebook mobile users will be able to go live.

In January, IBM acquired veteran video streaming provider Ustream, a company head quartered in San Francisco that serves more than 80 million viewers and broadcasters, to target live video for the enterprise. According to credible rumors, Google, which offers live streaming via Hangouts on Air and YouTube Creator Studio, is working on a new live streaming app for consumers called YouTube Connect, which will be available on both iOS and Android devices, to compete directly against Periscope and Facebook Live.

Facebook sees a big business opportunity in live video, notes Time Magazine. The company hopes that live broadcasts will keep users on Facebook for longer times, which will permit selling more ads. Selling advertisements is Facebook's core business, which brought in $5.6 billion in the most recent quarter. From initial data disclosed by Facebook, it appears that people comment ten times more on live broadcasts than on regular videos, which is a good measure of audience engagement.

Wired notes that, with more than 1.5 billion users worldwide, Facebook is in a good position to reach a wider audience than TV networks and online competitors. "Facebook wants to be your new, customizable TV."

"Facebook is getting serious about video," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy," as reported by Computerworld. "These new Facebook features are unique enough and exciting enough to pull in younger users... This could be the answer for Facebook." Other analysts are more skeptical but acknowledge that Facebook's push to video is likely to increase user loyalty and time on-screen.

It seems likely that the push to live video will strengthen not only Facebook's leadership in social media, but also its emerging position as a next-generation, social TV network. Both will make it easier for Facebook to sell ads, which is good news for Facebook investors.

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