UK publishers see Facebook Live viewership stagnate

Facebook Live is stagnating in the U.K. And with Facebook ending payments to media companies for creating live video, publishers don’t expect to ramp up live video production in the next six months.

In January, pages run by media companies in the U.K., like BBC Sport, The Guardian, Daily Mail and Sky News, created 850 Facebook Live videos, according to SocialBakers data, a number that has remained flat for the last six months. Overall, according to Michaela Branova, SocialBakers lead data analyst, it indicates we may have reached a level of saturation.

Source: SocialBakers.

“Facebook incentivized some media companies to produce Live content in 2016,” said Branova. “But if those incentives disappear in 2017, we will likely see media publishers experimenting with other formats for their Facebook content.” According to sources, Facebook is spending more time talking to publishers about 360-degree video, VR and live audio. But there doesn’t seem to be any paid incentives for media companies to create content for these formats, yet.

“It’s inevitable that publishers roll back from Facebook Live as the paychecks dry up,” said one publisher, speaking anonymously. “I’ve heard of several publishers that are not going cold on Live so much as accepting that there’s less in it for them if they’re no longer getting paid for them. So I imagine a brief retreat, followed by a stabilizing of the volume of Lives we see.”

“The two things Facebook cares about is revenue and user experience,” said Will Hayward, chief executive officer at JOE Media, which created 16 videos over the six-month period, and plans to produce the same number of Facebook Live videos over the next six. and whose approach to Live remains the same. “Does it think that melting lollipops and fake moon landings are a good user experience or are going to deliver revenues in 12 months time? No.” These types of Live stunts have significantly decreased. Instead, Hayward said Facebook “wants to be a socially distributed video and VR network  in order to achieve that it needs premium, lean-back content that people want to share.”

“Very few professional publishers did well on Live under the subsidies, apart from some TV networks and sports leagues for promotional content,” said Enders media analyst Matti Littunen. Using BuzzSumo data, the firm found the pages that had the most interactions on Live videos were Football clubs and politicians.

That’s not to say there haven’t been success stories. Publishers, including BuzzFeed U.K., have honed their strategies to reach a bigger audience and grow Facebook pages through Live. “We’ve experimented a lot over the last year to find out what works and what doesn’t,” said Andy Dangerfield, U.K. social media editor at BuzzFeed News. “Now we’re more focused on what we’ve learned works: keeping video simple, original and engaging. The videos that work best have an element of the absurd, or jeopardy, or show extraordinary scenes.”

Publishers like The Economist and The Telegraph are also finding that streaming live events works well. When BuzzFeed U.K. streamed a Facebook Live at the London protest in the aftermath of Trump’s immigration ban, it received more than 300,000 views, and page growth that week doubled compared to an average week. Although Dangerfield was unwilling to put figures on the number of Facebook Live posts BuzzFeed U.K. is publishing, explaining that it depends on the news cycle.

Most said the clearest route to monetization has been through branded content, and even that is sporadic. “Until there is a successful ad unit for live video, it will be things like political event-streams and promos that will keep doing the best — subsidies or not,” added Enders analyst Matti Littunen. And even with this in place, brands are incredibly squeamish about where they appear. Live video will make many advertisers nervous.

Hayward added that reach for Facebook Live videos has also taken a hit, either because competition has increased, users are no longer as interested, or Facebook has changed the algorithm. “Everyone assumes it’s the third, but really the other two have to be playing a big part.”

“Legacy media businesses are more of a slave to Facebook,” he added. “It’s that sense of panic and chasing the latest feature rather than looking at the long term. Publishers who are not focused on the long term will abandon Live.”

Image: courtesy of BuzzFeed U.K., via Facebook.

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