Technology

Sarconi: Facebook Live may be awkward now, but has potential for growth

Meerkat and Periscope, two live-video streaming services, raised millions in funding in 2015 and were projected to be industry-changing parts of social media. A year later, it seems like that claim was full of hot air: Meerkat decided to get out of the video streaming game and while Periscope users have created more than 200 million videos, it has yet to really change the social media dynamic.

Despite this, Facebook recently expanded its video-streaming service sitewide after having been only available for high-profile users. Known as Live, the feature works in a way that is essentially identical to that of Meerkat and Periscope.

At first, given that context, I was actually going to write a column about why Live was a mistake on Facebook’s part. But I have come around to the idea that while this will be awkward in the short term, it will be worthwhile in the long run.

Facebook and live video streaming are currently an odd couple. Live video’s main purpose is to tell real-time stories and its value is offering a look at what is happening right now. Facebook doesn’t work that way. The social media site is more driven by trends and events that took place a few hours or days ago rather than what is happening in real time. Initially, it’s going to be weird.

It didn’t help that Live got off to a bumpy start. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and CEO, used the service to do a Q&A with users last week and just as he was about to answer the first question, the video stream cut out without warning. When the stream came back, Zuckerberg explained that he decided to change his location before answering questions. Still, you never get a second chance to make a first impression and this was not a good one.

So maybe there will be an awkward phase for a little bit and people may not use Live for awhile. I’m sure I won’t, my friends aren’t interesting enough to watch on a live stream. Much like a kid going through puberty, Live will have to grow into its body.

Jennifer Grygiel, an assistant professor in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications who specializes in social media, said the process will simply take time.

“Right now, it’s the early adopter stage — just trying to get people to learn the tool,” Grygiel said. “You have to train people (on) how to use technology and why you might do it. Not everything is adopted really quickly. That doesn’t mean it won’t be.”

But once it does, there will be a world of potential at Facebook’s disposal and it will be feasible that Live will become a main part of the company’s brand.

There is little doubt in my mind that the timing of Facebook’s announcement has at least something to do with Twitter’s recent deal to broadcast 10 NFL games this upcoming season.

Facebook was also in negotiations with the NFL, but it reportedly walked away over a disagreement in advertising. As a result, Twitter is getting a lot of press, while Facebook, the most popular social media site ever, isn’t.

Facebook’s decision is surely one entrenched in the belief that eventually live streaming will become a huge part of communication platforms. YouTube, for example, has been live streaming for quite some time. But that’s expected, it is a video-centric site. Meanwhile, Facebook and Twitter are rooted in social interaction, so the integration isn’t as seamless.

One thing in Facebook’s favor is the meteoric rise of mobile video consumption. Fifty-five percent of all mobile data consumed last year was video data, according to MediaPost. That number has likely risen in 2016 and it’s only going to get larger.

That’s what Facebook is betting on, anyway, and it should. Video streaming is worth the investment. If successful, Live could become its own app on devices like Roku and video game consoles. In the chance that it fails, well, the company can take the hit.

Paul Sarconi is a senior broadcast and digital journalism major. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at pjsarcon@syr.edu and followed on Twitter @paulsarconi.

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