(Image source: Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times)
Facebook has hit a few speed bumps lately as the world’s largest social network heads down the path of becoming a media/entertainment business. About a week ago, company was accused of suppressing content from conservative news outlets in its Trending Topics news feed. Then, on May 16, Facebook, in a supremely ironic moment given the news of the previous week, botched a live video interview with President Barack Obama.
But make no mistake: Facebook’s transformation into a media/entertainment platform is inevitable.
If you look at the big picture, aka 10-year road map, you see a company immersed in virtual reality, augmented reality, and video (among many other things). As Facebook shared at its most recent F8 developers conference, video is an important part of Facebook’s growth over the next five years. At F8, Facebook noted that 70-percent of all mobile traffic will be video by 2021, and Facebook wants to succeed as the shift occurs. In April, Facebook made a big step in that direction with the launch of Facebook Live.
What fascinates me about Facebook Live is how commonplace it seems to be already, just weeks into its existence. Say what you will about the technical glitches that marred the Barack Obama livestream, but Facebook is making live streaming an everyday part of the Facebook content sharing experience. Through Facebook Live, I’ve already taken a tour of new virtual reality products courtesy of Robert Scoble and discovered the Here Active Listening sound app with Guy Kawasaki. I’ve also watched Slash take a boring limousine ride down the backstreets of Las Vegas, but, hey, there’s a lot of drivel along with Game of Thrones on TV, too.
The point is, Facebook is not just talking: it’s delivering. Already brands ranging from World Wrestling Entertainment to iHeart Radio are using Facebook Live. On May 12, video gaming company Activision Blizzard announced it will publish daily live programming on Facebook, thus making Facebook at threat to Twitch. Boom, just like that: Facebook is a platform for the growing e-sports industry. Oh, and everyday folks are streaming childbirths. Why? For the same reason brands are streaming: to engage a big audience, which Facebook certainly delivers (1.6 billion and counting).
Longer term, Facebook plans to realize the potential of its 2014 purchase of Oculus Rift by making virtual reality (and augmented reality) a major content delivery platform. The company has supported this vision by making Oculus Rift available for purchase and unveiling a Surround 360 camera that captures 360-degree video easier for Oculus Rift headsets. Facebook is also training high schoolers to make VR.
Appropriately, VR and AR are longer-term plays whose uptake depends on a number of variables, including the well-founded skepticism that the public won’t be willing to shell out big dollars for a headset that makes you look like a total dork. But Mark Zuckerberg has a vision and patience to integrate VR and AR into a social experience that is more immersive, playful, and entertaining, like gaming. What’s more, the market is moving in his direction: AR and VR are expected to become a $150 billion market by 2020, and major players such as Google and Microsoft are developing VR capabilities right along with Facebook.
While video and VR get the attention, Facebook is embedding music into its roadmap. As noted by Billboard, Facebook and Warner Music Group are testing a new feature known as Slideshow, which makes it possible for users to create soundtracks for video and photo albums by using music from major labels. A version is expected to be rolled out in Australia soon. Slideshow sounds like an answer to Flipagram or Musical.ly, which have become destinations for musicians such as Fetty Wap and Cam to have their music used by fans in their own visual stories.
Facebook is clearly making a move to become more legitimate as a music platform. In November 2015, the company unveiled a feature through which users can share clips of songs. Meanwhile, the real excitement for Facebook as a music platform comes from the artists (such as Metallica, which live streamed on Record Store Day). But it’s only a matter of time before Facebook ups the stakes for music live streaming — remember, Facebook Live is only weeks old, and it’s a natural way for Facebook to extend its reach into entertainment.
As a news delivery site — the “media” part of media/entertainment — Facebook has some major issues to iron out, and the alleged content bias is just one of them. Frankly I think Facebook’s equally difficult challenge is that its news feed is so stale and boring that it’s an irritant, not a value add. But Mark Zuckerberg will lick his wounds and figure out a way forward, just as he did when Facebook was criticized for not getting mobile a few years ago. Facebook makes plenty of mistakes, but Zuck always figures out a fix. With Facebook Live, he’s figuring out video (in a hurry). Whether VR and AR play out exactly he intends remains to be seen. But remember, it’s a 10-year roadmap.