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Facebook Wants Celebrities for Its Live Streaming Service, and It's Willing to Pay Cash

Sheryl Sandberg is in Hollywood with a pitch and a checkbook.

Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images
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.

Facebook has a new pitch for Hollywood celebrities and other famous people: Come broadcast yourself on our Live streaming video service, where you can reach your fans and find new ones.

We might even pay some of you to play along.

This isn’t the first time Facebook has tried recruiting famous people to use some part of its service, but it is the first time it has used money as an incentive. It isn’t promising huge sums. But it’s still a big deal, conceptually, for a company that has previously shied away from licensing content or paying creators.

Facebook is also signaling its seriousness by sending in the big guns to make its case: Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg is in Los Angeles this week, chatting up talent agencies about her plans.

People familiar with Sandberg’s pitch say that she’s trying to promote the reach of Live, which opened up — to celebrities first — last summer and is now a focus for CEO Mark Zuckerberg and thus the rest of the company.

In the near term, she’s trying to sign up a small group of test subjects — one source thinks she’s looking for about 100 — to start actively using the service on a regular basis, and to give a subset of that group some kind of payment for doing so.

The idea is that, long-term, Facebook thinks the service will generate ad revenue, and that instead of paying celebrities directly, it can share the ad revenue with celebrities who generate it, in the same way YouTube does with its individual content creators. (Disclosure: My brother is a product manager at Facebook. For obvious reasons we don’t talk about his job.)

A Facebook rep confirmed the meetings and its overall effort and offered this statement: “We’re investing in live video as we think it’s a great fit for our platform — more and more people are choosing to watch and share live video on Facebook because it is personal, real-time and authentic. Live is a really new format on Facebook and we’re just starting to understand its potential. To that end, we’re testing different ways to support partners so they begin experimenting with Facebook Live. We’ll be working closely with these partners to learn from them how we can build the best Facebook Live experience and explore with them potential monetization models.”

Note the hedge there about “potential monetization”: Facebook doesn’t have ads on Live now and hasn’t figured out how it wants them to show up there, so it doesn’t want to oversell the amount of money that talent can make on the platform.

That’s why it wants to offer some money, to some people, to prime the pump in the meantime.

But this isn’t the same kind of investment that Netflix is making to acquire movies, or even the money that YouTube has spent in the past to promote its ill-fated “channel” pitch or its more recent effort to keep talent from migrating to platforms like Vessel.

One person who’s heard the pitch came away thinking that Facebook would be offering six-figure sums to a handful of famous people.

Facebook is also not focused solely on the kind of famous people who appear onscreen at the Oscars; one person familiar with the company’s Live plans say it is interested in comedians as well as niche digital celebrities who are likely to understand how to broadcast themselves on the social network.

While Facebook is currently pushing Live, the most interesting part of the story may be what happens next. Up until now, Facebook hasn’t had a YouTube-like revenue sharing system for most of the video that has shot up on the site in the last year, but it doesn’t take much imagination to see this system moving there.

Other ripple effects, whether or not Facebook’s push works, are likely to be felt at Twitter, which has been emphasizing its Periscope livestreaming product as part of its turnaround push.

The same goes for YouTube, which now has one more reason to fret about Facebook’s rapid arrival on its home turf.

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