Newsrooms and their social media followers are the beneficiaries of a battle between Periscope and Facebook Live that heated up this morning.
Periscope, the live-streaming app owned by Twitter, announced today a trio of functions that will make it more competitive with its popular rival. In a post, Periscope said it will soon auto-save live-streams on both the app and Twitter with comments — and those annoying floating hearts — intact. You can still delete the broadcast after 24 hours.
Also being tested is a feature that allows users to connect their iPhones to drones:
We’ll automatically pull in your drone’s video feed and let you switch between it, your iPhone cameras and even your GoPro. During your broadcast, you can narrate from a bird’s eye view using your phone or even Sketch on the broadcast to highlight different sights.
And Periscope raised the stakes by adding new search functions, too.
"When you tap on the search button in the Global List, you’ll see a list of suggested topics to search for, including #Travel, #Music, #Food and more. To broadcast about a topic, simply tap the Broadcast button in the topic’s search results to add the relevant hashtag, or add the hashtag to your title directly."
Although Periscope did not explicitly acknowledge the ongoing competition with Facebook Live in its post, it's hard to read today's announcement as anything but the latest shot in an ongoing contest between the two streaming platforms.
Periscope's upgrades come as news organizations around the world are adopting its rival, Facebook Live, in robust and creative ways. As I teach in newsrooms and at conferences across the country, journalists on all platforms are telling me they are experimenting with Facebook Live because of its ease of use. This is the same thing I used to hear about Periscope right after it quelled the buzz around its rival, Meerkat.
Facebook Live spreads
Many news organizations have taken to Facebook Live in a relatively short span. Recently, NPR has begun using the tool frequently, airing two live-streams in addition to a number of other multimedia posts this morning alone.
Also on Monday, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation gave the world its first live look at the devastation inside Fort McMurray, Alberta, where a wildfire forced 90,000 to evacuate.
It was the first time that officials allowed reporters into the burned-out area, so the broadcaster pushed the report out through multiple channels including Facebook Live, said Brodie Fenlon, the senior director of digital news at the CBC.
At its peak, there were more than 3,300 people watching the stream simultaneously, Fenlon said. Ultimately, more than 86,000 people watched some part of the live-stream.
The CBC has also used Facebook Live to broadcast from Brussels, Belgium after the recent bombings there. Until now, the CBC used phone-quality video on the live-stream, but Facebook is now allowing TV stations to push their polished off-air signals onto the live-stream with broadcast quality.
The switch is a "game-changer" for journalists, Terri Cope-Walton, news director at WRTV Indianapolis, told Poynter.
"For five or 10 years we have talked about how to move social media onto TV," she said. "But the Facebook Live feed has flipped it. We are putting TV content online."
PJ O'Keefe, director of new media for WRTV, likened it to a high-quality broadcast.
"It is like putting up another tower and transmitting to people on the go and doing that in full production value," he said.
"The TV special ran on our website, and we streamed it on our Facebook Live page, too," O'Keefe said. "Our chief investigative reporter Rafael Sanchez was live on the Facebook feed during program breaks answering questions and engaging with the public."
About 10,000 viewers joined the live-stream on the first night. Tonight, the station will run a third special. But this time, the program, a town hall meeting to react to the other two programs, will only air on Facebook Live and on the station's website.
"It will have full TV camera quality production," O'Keefe said. "We want to be sure that this is a real brand play. We want it to be a brand extension," he said, not a lower quality feed from a phone. But, he adds, in breaking news, the public wants the information fast and will settle for lower video quality in exchange for an on-the-scene experience.
The new ways TV stations can reach the public by streaming on-air signals onto social media not only provides better quality but cut down on staff workload, Cope-Walton said. Until now, broadcasters were pulling double duty, producing big events for both linear broadcasts and social media. Now, they can take TV broadcasts, move them to social media and interact with the public.
Stations are experimenting with the best time for live social media video streaming, O'Keefe said. Breaking news attracts viewers anytime, but evenings seem to be the best, he said.
"That 8 to 10 p.m. time period seems to be the leisure and lean-back time when people will watch video online."
Skeptics and concerns
For all that these live-streams can help stations deliver, they're also accompanied by worries.
One concern is that Facebook does not share all of its data or in-depth News Feed priorities with journalists. Fenlon says he hopes Facebook and Periscope will refine the metrics that stations and networks see from their live-streams — including what, exactly, constitutes a "viewer."
"Until now there has been some skepticism about the numbers we are seeing," Fenlon said.
Newsrooms commonly tell me that more than half of their website traffic comes from Facebook, so they feel compelled to put significant effort into their social media posts. And social media can be critically important to keep the public connected to breaking news.
But not all stations are streaming their most crucial coverage live. When tornadoes hit Oklahoma Monday, TV stations owned and operated by Griffin Communications did not stream coverage live to Facebook, said Joyce Reed, vice president of content at the media company.
The stations regularly post alerts, warnings and video on social media and make aggressive use of apps to warn viewers about storms.
"But when you stream live off-air video on Facebook, you are generating somebody else's business," Reed said. "We need to know what the end-game is for us on Facebook."
Reed is not alone in her concern that news organizations will be giving their live content away to Facebook and Periscope and getting nothing in return.
But for now, WRTV is hoping that building brand loyalty for its station is worth the effort — even if it's not generating any income for the moment.