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The problem with live video

Last month Instagram added live video capabilities to its ever strengthening arsenal of features. The move was seen by many as another step forward in the Facebook-owned platform’s battle against Snapchat and its ephemeral appeal. But for brands this latest strive forward in consumer-to-consumer technology is just another example of social platforms cutting out the corporate side. In other words the on-going march of social media away from public sharing and back towards private messaging is making it harder than ever before for brands to be seen online.

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Live video is - in many ways - an archaic concept. After many years spent lamenting the demise of the linear TV schedule or the weekly publishing process, it is perhaps surprising to find a new generation of media embracing ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ technology. After all, surely one of the Internet’s great strengths is that you can find anything, from anywhere, for the rest of eternity in the digital ether? Print magazines go to the recycling plant. Online content remains forever online. 

The emergence of ephemeral content has in part been due to a backlash against the everlasting effect of online content. After all, mistakes made in the offline world can ultimately be forgotten while even a deleted tweet from a renowned celebrity can, once screenshotted, remain forever online. But while this trend is indicative of, and unstoppable in, the shift in peer to peer communications, it is not necessarily one to bet the farm on from a content production point of view. 

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The problem with live video is that publishers, broadcasters, and brands alike are endeavoring to follow consumers into private areas of communication just as they have previously done on public social media. It is already intrusive enough for brands to be found in your social timeline without them trying to dictate your daypart as well. By automatically generating a notification on Facebook for example telling you that they are ‘going live’, brands are immediately causing annoyance by belligerently demanding your attention in the here and now: “Look, I’m online! I’m Live! Come! Come and see me now! Come NOW or you’ll miss me!”

Now of course there can be upsides. Facebook’s approach of allowing you to broadcast live and then automatically saving your content provides a nice twist. And I’m sure viewing a few words from backstage at the Phil Collins gig, and knowing that they are live right before he goes on, will have at least some sort of novel appeal. But ultimately for brands the cost of creating real-time content outweighs the benefits, especially if it is going to be accompanied by an intrusive notification and the feeling of a modern day cold call: Can I just take two minutes out of your day to tell you about inPress Online?  

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Content that is commercially viable

To use what has already become an old advertising cliché of the modern era: the right brand, with the right audience, on the right platform, can achieve some success with live video. We work with a theatrical client in London’s Westend for example, and the odd piece of unique broadcast, from the right spot, can sprinkle a unique transparency on industry communications from ‘behind the curtain’. But for publishers in particular it is not a long-term, or even a wholesale strategy. Online video needs to be cost-effective and importantly shareable online. Even for broadcasters now experimenting with live social as an alternative to traditional distribution networks, the pitfalls are obvious to see. A football match broadcast online 3 hours ago is already yesterday’s news. But a 10-minute clip of James Corden, singing karaoke, with a celebrity, that was produced 3 weeks ago, is still viewed as a contemporary piece and being shared around for all to see. 

Ultimately online video represents another step forward in media technology. But as we have seen more recently with the advent of automated advertising and ad-blockers, we must remember to put content and communication first, before the channels they go down.

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