Publishers Tweak Their Approach to Facebook Live

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The Bleacher Report on Facebook Live
The Bleacher Report on Facebook Live
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Facebook wants users of its Facebook Live streaming service, including media publishers, to "go live frequently," so as to maintain a steady stream of offerings and grow a base of consistent viewers, as encouraged in an online "tips" page. But just how often to really use Facebook Live is a question with which publishers are grappling.

"For The Beast, it's about whether or not there's an interesting/unique moment for us to use it," Daily Beast President Mike Dyer said in an email. "At the end of the day, if there's a story that we can tell in a unique way and it's well-suited for Facebook Live we'd do it, but we don't prioritize it for its own sake."

Mr. Dyer said The Daily Beast is now doing "far fewer" Facebook Live broadcasts than a few months ago, when the platform was starting to catch on with publishers. The company has already pulled the plug on one Facebook Live show, "The Appointment," which focused on men's style, though it still produces a show about cocktails called "Drink Cart" and occasionally airs a show called "Cheat Sheet" when a news event calls for it.

Justin Choi, CEO of the ad platform Nativo and a Facebook Live skeptic, said he's seen a drop in the frequency of broadcasts. "I have noticed that publishers are taking a step back and re-evaluating their investment whereas early on, they were diving headfirst and experimenting," he said.

It's difficult to back that assessment up quantitatively. According to research conducted for Ad Age by the social media analytics company Socialbakers, Facebook Live broadcasts for the top 500 media companies by audience seemed to peak in June at 5,385 broadcasts, then decline in July with 3,986 and August with 3,926. The overall trend is one of growth, though, a data analyst for the company said.

Digital sports publisher Bleacher Report has decided on a "premium," quality-over-quantity approach to Facebook Live.

"At this stage of the game, a lot of publishers are creating a lot of volume around Facebook Live," said President Rory Brown. "At B/R, we don't think volume is the play—our theory is the real winners in Live will be the brands that create premium content experiences vs. volume plays." He said Facebook "has been really supportive in our efforts to build premium content experiences through Live."

This fall, the Turner-owned digital sports company will air three high school football games on Facebook Live, all with interesting storylines that could make them appointment viewing. One of the games will feature a team that never punts, a story that's gotten some attention from other media outlets but will in theory be a lot more fun to consume in a live broadcast that can be viewed on your phone.

Unlike Bleacher Report, some publishers have pledged big volume on Facebook Live. At the NewFront presentations in May, for example, Hearst told advertisers it would produce 200 Facebook Live videos a month, while digital publisher Mashable promised more than 35 hours a month. Both companies said they have met or exceeded those May promises.

Jigar Mehta, who oversees video for Fusion as VP-digital operations, said the company now does between four and 12 Facebook Live broadcasts a week, up from two to four a week in the early days. "The main change for us is that we have more rigor to deciding when to do a Live now than when it launched, because the audience expects better experiences," he said. "I don't want our team going Live for the sake of it, as that would negatively impact the relationship we have been building with our audience."

To be clear, Facebook is paying some media companies to experiment with Facebook Live. Those publishing partners are given both hourly and frequency guidelines for usage, though a spokeswoman for the company declined to discuss them.

The New York Times is one such paid partner, which means Facebook pays the company "in return for a prescribed amount of video (so far it's averaging upward of four a day)," public editor Liz Spayd wrote in an August blog post. But, she suggested in the post, the company needs to pump the brakes a bit: "If you're producing about 120 videos a month, implementing good quality control can take a backseat."

Some publishers are starting to ramp up the frequency of their Facebook Live broadcasts. In a June interview, Thrillist Media Group CEO Ben Lerer said that publishers probably shouldn't take an all-of-the-above approach to Facebook Live. "The real question for these brands is: 'What are you going to try, and what aren't you going to try?'" he said. "You have to pick and choose. And if the answer is, 'We're just going to go and do everything,' you're going to burn a fuckload of money."

At the time, Mr. Lerer said that Thrillist was producing one or two Live broadcasts a week, as sort of an experiment with the platform. Now he said Thrillist is planning to do more, with the platform slowly becoming a bigger part of the company's strategy.

Executives for Business Insider and NowThis, two companies that have excelled in the social video space, said they're still all-systems-go on Facebook Live. But NowThis President Athan Stephanopoulos said, "We are using everything we do as a constant learning experience to help drive decisions on what we do going forward."