With a revamped Live feature, Facebook aims to build its celebrity arsenal

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Illustration via Max Fleishman (CC-BY-SA)

If you build it, will they come?

With a slew of new features and a global launch, can Facebook Live make a dent in the budding world of live video, especially with the digital celebrity set?

Facebook announced a handful of new features today, from live Reactions, the ability to launch live video exclusive to Events or Groups, and a global desktop map and discoverability tabs on mobile to help fans find and engage in new content. The roll-out is an acceleration of the yearlong plan for Facebook Live, according to the director of product, Fidji Simo.

“We started seeing people just loving [Facebook Live], and that’s how we operate. We’re nimble enough that we can put a lot of people on something that’s working well,” she told the Daily Dot at the L.A. launch event. “It was end of January that we realized it was really awesome. We started realizing we needed a lot more help. My head of engineering has this quote where he says, ‘It was like Jaws, we need a bigger boat!’ So we put a lot more people on it and were able to shape what was a year worth of stuff in a couple of weeks.”

“These people are always looking for an audience, and with Facebook Live they’re able to grow the audience really, really fast.”

That speed is essential for Facebook in the ever growing live stream space. It’s been a budding subset of digital video in the past year, with services like Meerkat rocking the SXSW scene in 2015, followed shortly by Twitter’s product Periscope. YouTube offers its own live-streaming capabilities for users, and companies like YouNow are building their own stable of stars with a streaming service that also allows for live tipping of celebrities. Most recently, topic specific live stream apps like Nom, which focuses on food, have popped up to serve communities.  

To jump headfirst in the to waters of live, Facebook initially targeted celebrities and brands, starting in August 2015, before a general rollout in December. As previously reported, some of those influencers and media companies tapped to use Live were paid to use the platform.

“We’re working with a few partners, and in some of the cases that includes a financial incentive,” Simo told Re/code, who first reported on the deals. Simo stressed to us that overall influencer adoption of Live was organic and based on creator interest in the platform’s abilities to connect with their global audience.

For a behemoth like Facebook, it’s not only about capturing the influencers, but also making technology that’s usable to the broader population. The dedication and work it takes to produce content for YouTube or Vine that can elevate a user to celebrity status and take it from hobby to job has increased over the years. The proliferation of live video and the ease with which users can now produce that content has shown that, for the general public, turning on you phone to broadcast your nephew’s birthday or a live concert is a much lower barrier to entry than trying to produce a perfect vlog about the experience. With Live video a win for the casual creator, the professional set simply can’t ignore it, although they do have many options.

For most digital influencers, Facebook is simply a promotional option and a way to reach their fans, not their main digital home. On other platforms, like YouNow or YouTube, video streaming is monetized, and their participation there can earn a paycheck. For some of the names that YouTube has touted as part of the Live launch like Dr. Oz or Steve Harvey, their primary source of income is media outside of digital, and their view of social media is one of promotional and PR. For digital creators, it’s their bread and butter. Some have tried Facebook Live or are exploring it as part of their arsenal, but without a revenue stream it’s hard to believe they’ll feel tied to the platform. One option will be to tie branded sponsorship into live streaming, connecting digital talent with brands in a live experience seems to be the next iteration of digital entertainment. Facebook’s approach is to let Live build on organic interest from influencers and to bank on their increased engagement opportunities in lieu of a paycheck.

“These people are always looking for an audience, and with Facebook Live they’re able to grow the audience really, really fast,” Simo said. “It’s been a fun conversation with these guys to take all their creativity and bring it to the platform.”

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