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What We Learned From Analysing 30 Days of Facebook Live Videos

To get a better understanding of what’s working with Facebook Live video, we looked at 30 days worth of live video from the New York Times and BBC News.

Facebook Live

Since getting a boost in the news feed earlier this year, you may have noticed more clips of reporters taking questions, livestreams of press conferences, public interviews and more in your feed.

We wanted to gain a better understanding of how news broadcasters are using Facebook Live to connect with their audiences. Using NewsWhip’s social database, we looked at 30 days worth of videos posted to the main New York Times and BBC News Facebook pages. Well over 100 clips later, one thing was clear: serious resources are being put towards live video by both publishers.

In the 30 days we reviewed for the New York Times’ main Facebook page, we recorded them posting 40 Live videos to their main Facebook page, out of 141 in total. That number rose to 73 when we counted in Live videos from other NYT Facebook pages (such as NYT Video, Politics, Theatre, Style, Food and more) that were cross-posted to the main Facebook page. Other NYT pages are also using Live video heavily on their own. The Times have a contract with Facebook to produce Live videos. BBC News posted around 60 live videos to their main page in the last 30 days, or an average of two per day.

Although the subject matter of the videos varied hugely, we noticed some interesting ways that the feature is being used. Here’s what we learned from looking at the output of Live videos from The New York Times and BBC News over 30 days.

 

1. Facebook Live gives publishers a new way of adding to news stories

 

The two pages we reviewed were heavily news-focussed, but also serve as hubs for other coverage for their organisations. Regardless, the most popular videos from both pages were heavily news-focussed.

Our analysis showed that both the New York Times and BBC News use Live Video as a way of adding to a story that they’re already covering. Whether it’s having reporters on the field explore the implications of events like Brexit, or having senior reporters break down the context behind certain stories from the newsroom, both publishers are leveraging the format to bring the news to a social (and largely mobile) audience. In their use of Facebook live, NPR have found the same.

The formats vary. Having reporters give their own insight and answer questions on events was popular, but reporters on the ground talking to eye-witnesses, experts and others attracted plenty of engagement.

So, what makes a good live video report?

It helps if it’s about an issue that has major relevance. For the New York Times, a majority of their live broadcasts in June focussed on events around the June 12 Orlando shooting. Their most engaged video of the period was a live interview with a survivor of the attack.

Talking to many people also seems to be a feature of these broadcasts. The most engaged BBC News Live video of the period was also related to the Orlando shooting, with a live broadcast outside a blood clinic looking for donations.

In the clip, reporter Rajini Vaidyanathan talks to numerous donors and organisers at a blood donation centre, bringing the viewer on a journey through the scene that wouldn’t be practical with the constraints of a regular TV broadcast. Another clip of a BBC reporter talking to fans at Wimbledon about their thoughts on the day’s matches went on for 30 minutes.

Finally, while Facebook Live most famous moment to date starred just one person and a Chewbacca mask, most of the videos we looked at required more resources.

While successful Live videos are possible to pull off solo, many of the videos we reviewed had a minimum of two (video and audio, plus presenter) on the ground, plus others choosing the best of the questions in real time and promoting the stream and posting information in the comments on Facebook itself. It doesn’t take the high production standards of live TV, but going live in front of thousands of people and making sure everything goes smoothly still takes a bit of planning.

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2. From drones to quizzes, new Live formats are being tested heavily

 

Our analysis proves that Live video lends itself to lots of creativity.

As well as the more ‘traditional’ piece-to-camera type videos, the Times also experimented with live drone footage, streamed panels, public interviews and even a live music performance in the 30 days we reviewed.

Each of these clips had solid engagement rates, but didn’t break into the top tiers. Yet their consistently high view counts indicated that they have lasting appeal. The challenge for publishers with live interviews and personalities is to try and ensure that the subject matter is targeted as closely as possible to the right audience.

Other formats however, have more potential to be appealing to wider audiences. Check out this live drone footage that the New York Times posted of a flyover of a Chinese national park:

One NYT experiment saw them challenge viewers to see if they were ‘smarter than a New York Times journalist‘ in a live quiz. Another interesting take was a live drawing of the day’s news by artist Christopher Niemann. Meanwhile, BBC News’ ‘Fact Check’ team answered viewers’ questions about the UK’s EU referendum live, the day before the vote.

It’s clear that there are attempts to find the sweet spot for Live video. Figuring out the user experience and preferences are key. Are the audience happy to listen into a 60 minute-plus interview? Or would they prefer watching stunning footage explained to them in real time? More experimentation is necessary.

 

3. The length of the videos depend on the subject matter

 

It’s obvious that Live videos are going to be longer than the standard pre-made clips, which we’ve seen be successful when quite short.

The main appeal of Live videos is that they’re actually live, and so there’s a reason that they may do better the longer they go on. But ultimately, it’s down to what they’re about.

Looking at the Times’ Live output, the panels we looked at went on for over an hour each, but they were at the very upper-end of the scale. Here’s how long the NYT’s most engaged Live videos over the 30 days:

1. Interview with Orlando shooting survivor: 31 minutes, 19 seconds.
2. A Times editor explains what happened in the shooting: 11.02
3. Drone footage of Chinese national park: 17.21
4. A Times journalist reports on flooding in Paris: 18.14
5. A Times journalist reports from New York’s Pride Parade: 12.00

Many of the BBC’s on-the-street pieces came in at around 30 minutes long.

While Facebook recommends a five minute minimum, all the Facebook Live videos we reviewed from the New York Times and BBC News went on for significantly longer than that.

 

4. Social Media Editors are really getting involved in the comments

 

While many social media editors will long have been used to jumping into comments of Facebook posts in the past, the comment section of Live video posts take on a new importance.

The comment section can add important context or clarity for some of the videos, and can direct interested viewers to relevant related posts on your site. Our analysis showed that the comment sections were being utilised much more frequently by social media editors with live video, in a variety of ways.

The New York Times used the comment section to engage with viewers on a live drawing video:

NYT Comments

 

BBC News helped explain the context of the video to viewers that were joining late. This allows new viewers to quickly tune into the conversation:

BBC News Live Video Comments

 

In the comment section of a live interview with the actor Jude Law, the Times’ social media team linked to relevant stories on their website. This was a common tactic that allowed the viewer to learn more about the story:

New York Times Facebook Live Video

 

While back on the BBC’s page, the comment section acted as a useful platform for apology when one subject forgot interview etiquette:

BBC News Facebook Live Video

 

We’ll continue to analyse how publishers and brands are using Live Video to attract engagement, so be sure to subscribe to our blog for new updates. In the meantime, let us know if you have any observations in the comments below, or on Twitter.

 

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  • Scott McMillen

    I’d probably start w/ 90% of views are auto-play. Let’s be real here, is anyone “actually” watching these low budget videos?