When mobile live-streaming apps Meerkat and Twitter's Periscope caught people's attention in the spring, some people started wondering if and when the trend would catch Facebook's attention. Well, it has.
On Wednesday Facebook rolled out the ability for people to stream live videos of themselves to the social network that other people can watch and comment on, as they would using Meerkat or Periscope. And like Periscope, people will be able to store recorded versions of their live-streams so that people who didn't catch them in time can watch them on the streamer's Facebook page.
But not just anyone can stream live on Facebook. The social network has put a velvet rope around the feature with a sign marked "Famous people only."
For now only public figures with accounts verified by Facebook can stream live video on Facebook because the company is making the feature available through its Mentions mobile app, which is restricted to celebrities managing their social profiles.
"We know that public figures want the option to share live video with their fans, and that people want to watch videos and engage with the public figures that interest and inspire them," a Facebook spokewoman said in an email. "We'll be listening to feedback from both people and public figures as we continue to evolve this product."
She did not respond to a question about whether Facebook would enable live streaming for normal people or brands.
So for now the reasoning is anyone's guess. But here's a hunch: celebrities' livestreams will probably be more interesting than what the average person might document, so Facebook is trying to set a precedent for what audiences can expect when tuning into a live-stream on Facebook. It's as if Instagram had launched only for celebrities and professional photographers to use in order to avoid the early onslaught of people posting photos of what they had for breakfast.
"I really think that they're paying attention to Periscope and Meerkat and seeing what's working and what's not working," said Jason Stein, CEO of digital agency Laundry Service, which was acquired by sports marketing and talent management firm Wasserman Media Group in April. "And I think what's working is celebrities who are live streaming a concert or a workout of a famous athlete. U2 has been very active on Meerkat. And I think they've seen those streams are generating traction.
"I think there's also a ton of boring, bad content on those platforms from general people," Mr. Stein added, "and that's because live is great if you have something worth showing live."
Facebook isn't making any money from the live streaming feature right now, and the spokeswoman declined to discuss future possibilities. As for celebrities getting brands to pay for sponsored live streams, that sounds like a no-no. "Our existing branded content policies apply to Live – third-party advertisements in Pages are prohibited, without our prior permission. We review content that is reported to us to verify whether it falls within our guidelines," the spokeswoman said.