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The Chewbacca laugh heard round the world

What was it about Candace Payne's video that made it an overnight success for Facebook Live?


Facebook is officially a dominant player in video. If it wasn’t official before, then Candace Payne made it official when she put on a Chewbacca mask and laughed herself to tears in her car last Thursday.

What started out as a Facebook Live stream from a Kohl’s parking lot has become one of the fastest-growing viral videos in history. The replay of Payne’s initial livestream hit more than 100 million views by Saturday afternoon, about three days later.

Keeping the different definition of "views" across platforms in mind, that’s faster than Miley Cyrus’s "Wrecking Ball" (6.1 days), Adele’s "Hello" (4.8 days) and Psy’s "Gangnam Style" follow-up, "Gentlemen" (3.4 days). Today, the video has nearly 150 million views. The next-most-popular Facebook Live video, BuzzFeed’s watermelon explosion, has less than a tenth of that view count.

In the past month, Facebook has reportedly paid big media brands and celebrities to make Facebook Live videos in an attempt to promote the new platform. But they didn’t pay a dime to Payne to sit in a parking lot and broadcast herself laughing at a Wookiee mask. So, what was it about that moment that made her want to broadcast to Facebook Live? And what was it about Payne's video that made it an overnight success for Facebook Live? It turns out that Chewbacca Mom needed Facebook Live as much as Facebook Live needed Chewbacca Mom.

A Low Barrier To Create

As investors in video platforms, one clear trend we have observed is that every good consumer video company designs their products with low barriers to create. The easier and more encouraging it is to press "record," the more a user posts. The more a user posts, the richer the platform. Creating should be fun — something Snapchat has nailed from the beginning, with a dead-simple UI and ephemerality. For and Smule, it’s an audio prompt. For Facebook, we think the hook will be "live" — but not for the reason you might think.

Facebook Live provides users like Payne an existing and "personal" relationship with her core audience. When a user shares a live video with friends and family, they are much less likely to fret about content and production value. It’s a conversation starter, not a finished product. Did Payne think these elements through before she started streaming her Chewbacca mask rapture? Probably not — and that’s the point. Live yields authenticity, the true currency for any viral video.

Facebook Live vs. Facebook Video

While the live format served as a great conversation starter for Payne, only a handful of people actually saw the livestream. Ultimately, the watchability of the video had nothing to do with the fact that is was live. The video will be just as funny a year from now as it is today. Unlike live news or sports, the immediacy of the content is completely irrelevant. It’s ironic that in all the press coverage around the video’s popularity, the focus has been on "live," despite the fact that 99.9999 percent of views were after the fact. Watching live is simply not the point.

The easier and more encouraging it is to press "record," the more a user posts. The more a user posts, the richer the platform.

Whether you want to call it "live" or not, the real magic driving Chewbacca Mom’s virality is the Facebook social graph. While its video product is in its early days, Facebook has huge advantages, given the amount of time and attention we spend there on a daily basis. There simply isn’t any other platform that allows you to spread your video to a tenth of its more than one billion active users within three days.

And influencers are taking note. Bessemer recently curated a conversation among 50 of the top consumer video CEOs, founders, creators and studio heads in San Francisco. In an informal survey, a majority of attendees said that they would prioritize Facebook over every other platform (Snapchat, YouTube, etc.) for content creation. And in the same survey, a majority also chose Facebook as the most important video company in the future.

It’s clear that Facebook’s video prowess is real. Looking ahead, we’ll be watching how "live video" evolves on its platform and other, more established live platforms like Periscope, YouNow and StreamUp. Periscope's success demonstrates that there is room for more than one.

Two or three years from now, does "live" matter at all? With the ability to replay livestreams as a standard feature across the board, maybe it's just a hook that provides a low barrier to start a conversation. Or, as we’ve seen with Twitch, will live video inspire new verticals of digital content altogether? Our bet is on all of the above.

Ethan Kurzweil is a partner at Bessemer Venture Partners, where he focuses on video, consumer technology and developer platforms investments, including Twitch, Periscope, Dropcam, Twilio, Intercom, PagerDuty and Smule. Reach him @ethankurz.

Ben Mathews is an associate at Bessemer Venture Partners, where he focuses on early-stage investments in consumer video, messaging, developer tools and machine intelligence and curates BVP’s Videoscape. Reach him @bennett_up.

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