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Facebook Starts Livestreaming, Too -- But Just for Celebrities

Heads up, Periscope and Meerkat.

Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

It was always a question of when, not if. So here’s the answer: Facebook, following in the footsteps of Meerkat and Twitter’s Periscope, is today rolling out its own version of a livestreaming app.

The big difference: Unlike Meerkat and Periscope, you can’t use this one to broadcast your own live video, unless you’re a famous person.

For now, Facebook is limiting use of its livestream product to “influencers” who use its Mentions app, which it introduced last year to encourage celebrities to use Facebook. Product manager Vadim Lavrusik says “thousands” of famous people use Mentions, which now has a livestreaming capability baked in.

Beyond that, this is essentially the same as the other livestreaming products we’ve seen. Celebrities point their phone at themselves or something else, hit a button and can instantly stream live to their followers on Facebook. People watching the stream can comment live, and the people making the stream can see those comments in real time. Facebook will also archive the videos, so you can play them back if you missed them live.

While some people — including Meerkat employees and investors — had thought that Facebook might work with, or buy, Meerkat to get into livestreaming, this is a home-grown product.

It seems as though the only thing that’s going to distinguish one livestreaming service from another is whether one of them really takes off — so far both Meerkat and Periscope have yet to disclose any meaningful user numbers, and industry buzz is that their metrics have drooped considerably after launching last spring.

If people do want to watch other people talk live on the Internet, Facebook might be livestreaming’s best bet, given its 1.5 billion user base. On the other hand, Facebook isn’t really a place you go to experience things in real time, or even close to it. Facebook’s algorithm is supposed to prioritize things it thinks you will like — not things that are happening now or that happened recently.

So how is a Facebook user supposed to know that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is cooking up something live, right now?

Lavrusik says Facebook will send alerts to celebrities’ fans — or people who have recently interacted with a celebrity on Facebook by “Liking” or commenting on something they’ve done — when that celebrity has started a livestream.

And even if you haven’t liked a famous person’s post in the last month or so, there are decent odds you’ll see a livestream in your stream, since Lavrusik says Facebook will show live video to people who like video. And, by Facebook’s calculation, it turns out a lot of people like watching video, since video views are booming at Facebook.

You can argue that Facebook has created a self-fulfilling prophecy here, since it is showing people videos that play automatically, and says that if people watch those clips for at least three seconds, that counts as a view. But Facebook isn’t interested in engaging in that argument — it just wants to show you more videos. So you’re going to see more videos, taped and live.

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