Facebook is breaking its silence on its newfound interest in signing up content partners ranging from individual celebrities to sports leagues like the NFL to dramatically pump up the amount of live video pulsing over its platform.
In an interview Monday with Variety, Dan Rose, Facebook’s VP of partnerships, confirmed the social-media giant is in discussions with the NFL about securing rights to live-stream games and has reached out to Hollywood agents to bring actors, athletes, music artists and others into its live-streaming fold.
“We’re talking to a lot of folks about live (video). There are a ton of types of content that can fit under this format,” Rose said.
Regarding the NFL, which is shopping an over-the-top package for next season anchored by “Thursday Night Football” games, Rose said, “We’ll see” if Facebook ends up landing those rights. Other bidders include Amazon.com and Verizon, according to industry sources.
Beyond live game broadcasts, Facebook also would be interested in serving up additional content before or after games in the locker room, behind the scenes or on the field itself. “There’s a lot of interesting things we can do with sports,” Rose said. He added, “If you think about how people engage on Facebook today, it’s not really around watching three hours of video.”
“I’m not going to rule anything out. We’ll try a lot of different ideas,” Rose continued. “There are a lot of different cuts you can imagine.”
To build up a critical mass of celebs using Facebook Live, the company initially is offering to pay talent to commit to regular broadcasts. Rose said, “It’s not going to be huge amounts of money,” and will be based in part on how much time each person is willing to invest. “We’re identifying a small number of people who can move quickly – if we are asking them to go live several times a week for a decent amount of time, we want to be sure they’re motivated to do that,” he said.
Facebook initially launched the live-video product last summer, available at first only to celebrities and other public figures.
Facebook is going full-bore on live streaming, to challenge rivals like Twitter’s Periscope, before there’s a real business model in place. That’s because first, Facebook Live must have significant scale on the content side, Rose said.
Longer term, Facebook will enter into revenue-sharing agreements with celebrities and media partners that stream on Facebook Live, either from ads carried in the video or some other form of monetization, Rose said. That would be similar to the rev-share program Facebook kicked off for video publishers last year. “They will hopefully be able to make money from this,” he said.
Rose said partners under the new program will start launching Facebook Live broadcasts over the next few months, declining to identify any that have expressed interest at this point.
“We’re looking for partners who can really build the product as they push the boundaries of what’s possible,” he said.
Thousands of public figures are using it today, Rose said, and “now we’re in a mode where we really want to encourage people to do more of it,” Rose said.
Facebook is so gung-ho on live video because it has very high engagement: Users watch live broadcasts three times longer than recorded video, according to Rose. In addition, Facebook Live has social qualities, including the ability to notify followers when someone is going live and conduct Q&As with fans during a live broadcast.
Overall, entertainment is a key focus for Facebook, as 940 million users are connected to at least one entertainment page. “Our message to the industry, to the folks we partner with, is you now have a production studio in your pocket – and a way to reach an audience that’s new and different,” he said. “It’s unscripted, it’s authentic and it’s interactive.”
In addition to entertainment, Facebook Live offers opportunities for journalists, politicians, digital creators who “understand digital media and want to take advantage of new formats,” and experts like scientists or chefs to connect with audiences, Rose said. “We want to get feedback in all these categories. That’s why we want to be broad in our approach,” Rose said.
And business model aside, a number of celebrities and others are already using Facebook Live as promotional tools to engage with fans or supporters.
NBC’s “Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” last month went live as Fallon rehearsed his opening monologue, and “Hamilton” actor Leslie Odom Jr. recently hosted a Q&A with fans on Facebook Live. Singer Rihanna exclusively used Facebook Live to share her first New York Fashion Week fashion show, while cast members of ABC’s Thursday night lineup of shows used Facebook Live to promote the midseason returns of “Scandal,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “How to Get Away With Murder.”
At last month’s Academy Awards, where AMPAS live-streamed backstage moments, host Chris Rock took to Facebook Live right before going on stage for his opening. Kevin Hart and Whoopi Goldberg also shared live streams before the Oscars.
Facebook Live has found a home on the campaign trail, too. Hillary Clinton’s staff did a Facebook Live Q&A to answer questions in advance of Super Tuesday, and Ted Cruz used it to deliver his Super Tuesday speech. John Kasich live-broadcast his endorsement event with Arnold Schwarzenegger over the weekend. Jorge Ramos, a journalist for Fusion and Univision, has regularly used Facebook Live as part of his coverage.
As for future monetization approaches, Rose would not rule out subscriptions and said there could be several ways to make money from live-streaming video. “We don’t want to say, ‘No, that’s not going to work,'” he said.