• Live-Streaming Video, Facebook and Finding the Money

    At this month’s F8 conference, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg gave a big boost to the burgeoning business of live-streaming online video when he said it was a “top priority” for the company. The company has assigned 150 engineers to live-streaming, changed its News Feed algorithms to give live video higher visibility, and is paying several notable publishers (including the New York Times, BuzzFeed and Vox) to create original programming for the format.

    That’s a serious commitment by the planet’s biggest social-media company. More interesting, perhaps, is what’s not yet attached to the Facebook offerings: figuring out how to pay for everything. The answers will help determine whether live streaming video becomes only a gimmick used by well-funded brand experimenters or narcissistic hobbyists. Done right, it could supercharge a bracing new platform with its own stars, best practices and yes, monetization schemes.

    More than Facebook is trying to figure this out. Twitter’s live-streaming app, Periscope, has grown quickly but hasn’t cracked the ad nut yet, even as its live streams get more integrated into the parent company’s feeds.

    Independent live-streaming sites such as YouNow face perhaps even more challenges trying to compete against the giants for live-streaming audiences and advertisers. Indeed, pioneer Meerkat already has waved the white flag, signaling a pivot away from live video. For ad-tech companies and their partners, however, YouNow and other indie streamers might also be more flexible and experimental, creating an opportunity to try new ad offerings without the one-size-fits-all requirements more typical of the behemoth sites.

    Al Roker Media - co-founded, yes, by that Al Roker – is among those trying to crack the code, creating what they’re calling a multi-channel network for emerging stars of Facebook Live. Roker and his co-founder Ronald C. Pruett Jr., a TV ad veteran, suggest that creators have to think hard about several issues, including when to go live. Serving up live programming during the day, when people largely are at work and can’t choose when to watch an extended live feed, probably is a bad idea for many kinds of content, for instance.

    And Pruett suggests that preroll, the standard ad unit of the YouTube era, isn’t going to be a winner in the live era, when twitchy mobile viewers are likely to click away quickly if they must wait too long for actual programming.

    So what might work? Try sponsored programming or other branded content, which studies suggest work well with millennial audiences who are primed to be fans of the new medium. Same with product placement, which for at least some products will be relatively easy to incorporate. I’m guessing some of the tricks used by radio (and now many podcasters) for years, such as having personalities deliver live reads of ad spots, may also have some chance for success here.

    Facebook also has announced new ad units and tags for branded content, a welcome offering that opens up many opportunities for advertising. It’s a brave new medium and now advertisers, publishers, creators and their partners have an opportunity to figure out how to make it a smash hit. But we still have a lot of work to do.