While you were sipping eggnog and roasting chestnuts last week, Facebook announced the launch of Facebook Live Audio. The feature is similar to Facebook Live’s video broadcasting feature, but without the moving pictures. It allows anyone to create an audio broadcast within Facebook.
The good news is that this decision affirms the power of audio in the overall consumer entertainment mix. From audio streaming to podcasts to this, there’s no question that even with more video than ever before, audio plays a key role in how consumers entertain and inform themselves.
So, the big question is this: What impact this might have on radio?
We probably won’t know for some time — Facebook will be testing the feature with select partners before opening it up to the general public at an unspecified date — but this will mean that listeners have yet another audio option in addition to radio.
In the meantime, here are ten questions that radio broadcasters ought to be asking about Facebook Live Audio:
1. How does Facebook Live Audio work?
Presumably, the interface will be similar to that of Facebook Live for video, but with a mic instead of a camera. However, Facebook hasn’t opened Facebook Live Audio up to the general public yet, so we don’t know. Facebook Live only allows you to broadcast video through a smartphone (unless you use a third-party workaround). Will that be true for the audio product as well? Will users be able to comment on the broadcast in the same way that they can with Facebook Live, making interactivity a crucial component of the broadcast? What will the metrics look like? We can’t wait to find out.
2. Does “Live” really mean live?
Video engages multiple senses — the eyes and the ears. Audio only engages one. Oddly enough, this fact means that production quality for needs to be better for audio than it does for video if a piece of content is to become a “hit.” A low-quality kitten video or cell phone footage of a Charlie biting a finger can go viral, but low-grade audio does not. One of the reasons the Serial podcast was a hit is because it had incredibly high production values. In short, the audience’s bar is higher for audio than it is for video.
So while grainy, shaky live video may work on Facebook, poorly produced live audio will fall short. So will Facebook require the audio broadcasts to actually be live? Or will users be able to upload pre-produced audio files, such as a podcast episode or a recorded interview? Of course, users will probably be able to pump such files down a “line in” no matter what, but given that interaction with the audience is one of the key features of Facebook Live’s video service, will Facebook encourage or discourage pre-produced audio? In short, how “live” does Facebook want Facebook Live Audio to be?
Close your eyes and play this video. Do you think this would’ve gone viral as a piece of audio?
3. Is Facebook a good place to promote audio?
The way people listen to audio content is different from the way they consume video or text. That’s because video and text require your full attention. (Ever try multi-tasking while watching Game of Thrones? How long before you lose track of the plot?) But with audio, people are often doing something else while they listen — driving, working out, cleaning the house, etc. Listening is often a “background” activity.
But browsing Facebook is not a “background” activity; like watching video, it requires your full attention. You can’t use Facebook while you’re driving a car — not safely, anyway. Is it realistic to think that people will suddenly switch from active media consumption to passive media consumption when they see an audio broadcast on the social network? Is Facebook a good medium for sharing audio?
4. Is Facebook Live Audio best for long or short audio segments?
The amount of effort I put into my audio consumption often depends on how long I intend to spend listening. For a 30 minute commute to work, I might connect my phone to my car stereo and download a podcast episode. But for that 5 minute drive to the grocery store, I’ll just flip through my radio presets. For an 8 hour trek to visit family at the holidays, I might purchase a couple of audiobooks or make a special Spotify playlist.
Facebook, on the other hand, is one of those things that I can use regardless of how much time I have. Whether it’s a two-minute wait for my coffee at Starbucks, or killing a half hour while my oil gets changed at Jiffy Lube, I’ll pop over to Facebook on my smartphone to see what my friends are up to. But will the fact that Facebook can be used for short periods of time make it more effective with short pieces of audio than longer ones? Will short songs or morning show highlights see more traction than long interviews or entire podcast episodes? Should audio content creators focus on using Facebook for teasers or full content?
5. Will Facebook support businesses that want to drive traffic elsewhere?
If it turns out that Facebook Live Audio works better for short audio (like teasers), how amenable will Facebook be to broadcasters who try to drive people to another destination? Facebook is encouraging people to broadcast live audio and video because they want people to spend more time on their social network. If a radio station offers up a morning show highlight and then instructs people to go to its website to hear the full show, doesn’t that run counter to Facebook’s goals? How will this be reconciled?
6. How are other companies using it?
So far, Facebook has teamed up with a handful of partners, such as BBC and Harper Collins, to offer audio through Facebook Live Audio. How will these companies use it? How effective will their efforts be? It will be helpful for radio stations to see a few case studies before they map out their own plans for the feature.
7. Is Facebook paying content creators to use the channel?
Facebook paid internet stars to broadcast live using their Facebook Live feature. Will they do the same for Facebook Live Audio? Who will they pursue — radio broadcasters, podcasters, or other content creators?
8. What are the legal issues around music rights?
Streaming music on the internet has its own unique set of rules and fees. Will the existing rules govern music broadcast through Facebook Live Audio, or will new arrangements need to be made?
9. What are the rules regarding sponsored broadcasts and commercials?
Facebook has some pretty strict rules around sponsored social media posts. While most Facebook Live video broadcasts don’t feature commercials in the traditional sense (it’s not like NBC pumps its programming feed onto Facebook), Facebook Live Audio broadcasts might — particularly if radio stations want to broadcast their online streams. What are the rules governing commercials in these streams? Will Facebook try to monetize these feeds above and beyond the commercials that the radio stations already has sold by piggybacking their own ads?
10. Will advertisers care?
Will radio advertisers be interested in Facebook Live Audio broadcasts? If so, will they look to radio stations for inclusion in the content, or will they turn directly to Facebook? What metrics will move the needle with advertisers? How will they reconcile Nielsen ratings with Facebook’s metrics? In short, will advertisers care? Mark Ramsey doesn’t think so, and he may be right.
It’s tempting to think that everything Facebook touches will turn to gold. After all, the company has been beyond successful. But audio content is a very different beast than the videos or texts that so frequently go viral on the social network. From music rights to sound quality to passive consumption, audio presents a unique set of challenges. Radio broadcasters should certainly experiment with Facebook’s new feature, but ask a lot of questions along the way — it’s not clear what this development means for radio broadcasters yet.
As we learn more about Facebook Live Audio, we will pass it onto you.
Facebook Live Webinar
I recently hosted a webinar showing radio broadcasters how they can use Facebook Live’s video broadcasts to promote their radio stations.
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