Technology

Hiawatha Bray | Tech Lab

Live from everywhere, it’s Facebook

DADO RUVIC/REUTERS

A Facebook logo.

Someday soon, you’ll come home from a hard day’s work, flop down on the sofa, switch on the TV, and watch a little Facebook.

Yes, the world’s top social media company now wants to be the world’s biggest video company. And Facebook is kick-starting the process by putting millions of everyday users on the air. That’s why you’re getting notified that a Facebook friend is transmitting live from the beach or his favorite nightclub.

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The Facebook live video service launched in August, with celebrities such as Vin Diesel and Donald Trump transmitting live videos to their online fans from mobile devices. In January, Facebook started letting the rest of us in. Any iPhone or Android user can start transmitting videos simply by launching the Facebook app and tapping an icon.

It’s hardly a new idea. A once-hot app called Meerkat lit the fuse in early 2015. Twitter Inc. soon struck back with a similar product called Periscope. It’s been reasonably successful, streaming 1 million hours of video per day, according to Twitter. It will do even better this fall, thanks to a deal with the National Football League to livestream 10 Thursday night games.

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Yahoo Inc. also wants a piece of the action. On Tuesday, its Tumblr blogging service launched a live video offering. Tumblr is relying on video apps from four other companies — YouTube, YouNow, Kanvas, and Upclose. Users of these apps will be able to send live video to all their Tumblr friends.

While Periscope can tap into Twitter’s 310 million monthly users and Tumblr claims an audience of half a billion, Facebook is fishing in a much bigger pond — 1.65 billion users every month. Get these Facebookers hooked on live video, and many of them will never leave.

Facebook runs a Web page where you can see hundreds of live videos from around the world. It’s a good place to find popular stuff. But it’s also full of dreary drivel — people talking to themselves, mostly. That’s no way to build up a loyal audience.

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But you need never see this stuff. Instead, Facebook Live targets us with videos that matter. You’re notified when one of your friends goes live or when one of your favorite pages hosts a broadcast.

In addition, the company is paying a total of $50 million to an array of broadcasters who know better than to bore us. New York Times reporters showed interviews of survivors of the Orlando nightclub massacre. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson lets his fans watch him train for the upcoming season. TV chef Gordon Ramsay referees cooking contests. And comedian Kevin Hart serves up jokes while maneuvering through rush-hour traffic.

Facebook has locked down exclusive deals for live videos from 140 major newsmakers and tastemakers. Millions of us have already friended or liked some of them. So when you get an invite to a Facebook Live show, there’s a good chance you’ll want to watch it.

Facebook has also done a deal with video game maker Blizzard Entertainment, creator of “World of Warcraft” and “Overwatch.” People who play Blizzard games on a desktop PC will be able to broadcast the games over Facebook Live. Odd as it seems, watching other people play video games has become immensely popular. Amazon.com’s Twitch, a site that specializes in such broadcasts, draws 100 million unique visitors per month.

Events will also conspire to raise the profile of Facebook Live. On Wednesday, for instance, Democrats in Congress held a protest to demand a vote on gun control legislation. The House went into recess, shutting off the live video feed on C-SPAN TV. So members began streaming the event on Facebook Live and Twitter’s Periscope, and soon attracted an audience of thousands.

With Facebook Live, any amateur with something to say or to show can draw a crowd — sometimes by accident. A Texas woman, Candace Payne, made a live video of herself wearing a Chewbacca mask. It’s been viewed over 157 million times. And Payne wasn’t even trying to become famous. Wait till the serious video buffs get busy. They could bring millions of fresh eyeballs to Facebook Live.

How will Facebook make video pay? For now, the company is hardly trying. But it will eventually sell ads against its live video offerings, once the audience is big enough.

‘There has to be a critical mass of users before you can monetize it.’

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“There has to be a critical mass of users before you can monetize it,” said Erna Alfred Liousas, an analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge. And just as there’s an ad-free version of Google’s YouTube video service for $10 a month, Facebook might launch a subscription service to support more ambitious programming.

In all, Facebook has taken its first steps toward the creation of a full-spectrum video network. The company did not say if it would launch a slate of dramas and comedy series, as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon have, but that’s the way to bet. After all, the tech news website The Information reported this week that Facebook engineers are working on ways to stream video through living room TVs. So don’t be surprised if the remote for your next TV set comes with a big blue “like” button. For Facebook, it’s showtime.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at hiawatha.bray@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeTechLab.
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