On Wednesday, Facebook (FB) rolled out new features to its Facebook Live video platform. The changes fit the name—they’re all about giving you video instantly, right now, in the moment as it’s happening—or as close to it as possible. And the changes are likely striking fear into rival social networks. If they aren’t scared, they should be.
Here’s what Facebook fanatics can do with Facebook’s new bells and whistles: Share live video directly with specific groups; post reactions that appear in an animation within the video as it plays (watch out, Periscope); doodle and add filters on a video as they shoot it (watch out, Snapchat); view a map that shows you everyone on the planet currently broadcasting live video.
But forget all of that: The most significant addition is arguably 24Live, a web hub that will feature the best Facebook Live videos from the past 24 hours. This directly takes on Moments, the section Twitter (TWTR) launched six months ago to entice new users by giving them digests, told through tweets, of big news stories. Facebook has been itching to compete with Twitter in the area of real-time content, and now it can.
Facebook Live also targets Periscope, the live-streaming video app developed by Twitter and launched last year, as well as Meerkat, the competitor that became a mega hit at South By Southwest the year before, but lost steam after Periscope came along. Both Periscope and Meerkat allowed for instant streaming of live video, and live comments and hearts that show up in the video as it streams. Now Facebook will offer those same things.
Snapchat, too, has had success with live video: Within its public Stories section, user-submitted footage from sports events like NFL games, or from political campaign rallies, have seen big engagement. If Facebook can pull off the same effect with its live videos, it will spell bad news for Snapchat and its $16 billion valuation.
In case all of that doesn’t make it clear how live-crazy Facebook is, the company has placed a Facebook Live tab in the dead center of its mobile app, replacing the button that previously opened up Messenger. It’s the company’s way of making it so that users cannot ignore live videos even if they want to. It is also a fix of sorts: When Facebook first launched Facebook Live, it enabled notifications so that any time a page you “like” on Facebook goes live, you get told. It annoyed many users, and now Facebook says the notifications are going away. Placing the Live tab in the middle of its app is its less intrusive way of flagging the content for you.
Why is Facebook going so hard on live video? Two huge enticements: engagement and advertising. In January, Facebook hit 100 million hours of video watched on its site per day. It now says users are 10 times more likely to comment on a live video than on a normal one. That stat is of tremendous importance to Facebook and to all content providers online, from social networks to broadcast news sites to digital media. If users are more likely to comment, they’re more likely to share, and if they’re more likely to share it, advertisers are more likely to shell out to place ads alongside a video. Advertising is key to Facebook’s continued growth; last year ad revenue spiked more than 50% to $17 billion, and an astonishing 76% of that ad revenue came from mobile ads.
The newly announced features are clearly just the tip of the iceberg. Facebook has also made known its intention to pay to celebrities to do live videos, and now it will pay content providers, including news sites, to do them as well. This week, when Twitter scored the rights to live-stream 10 NFL games next season, it was a big coup—but Facebook, which had been in the discussions as well, reportedly dropped out. Don’t assume that means Facebook won’t also live-stream sports in the near future. It’s possible the company has its own plans and methods to do so, and didn’t feel it even needed the NFL.
It’s all related, all part of CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s push to make Facebook the destination for real-time activity: news, chat, video, and discussion. “We built this big technology platform so we can go and support whatever the most personal and emotional and raw and visceral ways people want to communicate are,” he told BuzzFeed. That’s a crowded, ambitious list of what he wants Facebook to be for its users, but with 1.5 billion of them, it can get there.
Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology.