Since Facebook made its livestreaming feature widely available earlier this year, publishers have been experimenting with on-the-spot video in a variety of ways. Although some media organisations are benefiting from a partnership with the social network, others are still enticed to try their hand at Facebook Live by the increased reach the feature can provide.
To explore how publishers are using this format, we are publishing a series of in-depth articles chronicling their experiments. This is the third instalment in the series – check out the first one about the use of Facebook Live at International Business Times and the second on how ABC News creates distinctive live broadcasts for the platform.
Non-profit media organisation NPR collaborates with a network of 980 radio stations across the United States, syndicating its content, distributing programs produced by its member stations and partnering with them for newsgathering.
For NPR, who started experimenting with Facebook Live in March, the feature has been a "great way to test new people out on camera" and develop interactive broadcast segments specifically for its audience on the platform. NPR is also among the media companies paid by Facebook to produce live video, reportedly receiving $1.2 million for a 12-month deal.
We don't want to have just talking-head-type videos, because what we're trying to do is focused on interactivityLori Todd, NPR
Lori Todd, social media editor at NPR, told Journalism.co.uk the organisation ramped up its Facebook Live effort in April, and by 1 May, it had put together a team of about seven to nine people, who create the bulk of NPR's live broadcasts in DC and NYC.
The team includes producers brought in from the organisation's video and music departments, two creative directors and a few members of staff focused on social – some either joined the team on a temporary basis or help out with Facebook Live alongside their other duties.
"I am the coordinator of our Facebook Live efforts, so if a reporter wants to go live, we encourage them to go through me. We offer them training and support, so we're not just handing over our Facebook page without setting it up ahead of time.
"The content varies from daily news segments, to regular segments for our podcasts, programming and music divisions, to international reporters being out in the field.
"We've developed wholly new segments that didn't exist before and that don't exist on any of our other platforms either."
One of these brand new segments is Cereal, a daily Facebook Live broadcast that kicks off at 11am ET. The concept came about because staff behind NPR's breaking news blog, The Two-Way, were keen to get involved with live video in a way that allowed them to take advantage of the day's main headlines.
Each Cereal episode starts with a short clip from NPR's Morning Edition news program. After that, one of the Two-Way bloggers speaks to a newscaster about the headlines, before they connect with another reporter, either from the building or through a Skype video call, to do a deep-dive into one of the stories.
"It allows us to work in a lot of different news that might otherwise be hard to provide in [Facebook Live] format.
"A lot of times we have connectivity issues with people in breaking news situations, where we can't get the video signal strong enough for Facebook Live, so video Skypeing some people through Cereal allows us to bring that breaking news onto Facebook Live."
Todd said the team is planning to go through the analytics for Cereal to figure out if there is anything to be learned and applied to other similar, interactive formats.
They are looking to measure the times when people drop off, whether or not broadcasts on certain days perform better, and what impact a live video's description has on people tuning in.
NPR is aiming to work with its different desks to identify opportunities to create regular segments for Facebook Live, such as: Head to Head, where two editors and the audience collectively try to come up with headlines for an upcoming NPR story; Initialism, a broadcast from the Ask Me Another podcast, where the team plays a live word game with the viewers; and a new series that takes NPR science reporter Adam Cole inside the Smithsonian Museum, interviewing different scientists in their labs about their experiments.
"We don't want to have just talking-head-type videos, because what we're trying to do is focused on interactivity.
"Whenever we can get the audience to really take an active role in the video, whether that's asking questions to the host or playing along in a game, that's been really successful in getting people to stick around for longer."
However, Todd noted grabbing people's attention for longer and actually convincing them to turn on their sound and watch the video is still one of the main challenges.
NPR's Facebook Live videos are typically in the 16-minute range, as the "longer you are live, the more people will tune in."
"Initially, our videos were much longer and this was so hard for a lot of our reporters and journalists to grasp, because for produced videos, we've told them '90 seconds is what you're trying to get for a video to be successful on Facebook'.
"We have to realise the audience isn't going to watch from start to finish, so we have to make sure we structure the content of those videos accordingly.
"You will often see our presenters reintroducing themselves or reorienting people into what they're talking about and asking the audience to use the comments to interact with us."
While publishers are using other social media platforms to cross-promote their live streams or let people know a Facebook Live video is scheduled for a particular time, they mostly rely on the audience coming in organically through their news feeds.
This is also the case at NPR – Todd explained the team is interested in promoting some of their segments ahead of time, but this can be tricky and cause issues if the producers run into technical difficulties with one of their live streams.
"We try to be a bit more vague on the timing, but going forward we are looking at how to promote a video more once we are live.
We have to realise the audience isn't going to watch from start to finish, so we have to make sure we structure the content of those videos accordinglyLori Todd, NPR
"My experience as a social media editor has been that telling people to come back is not a successful strategy that works on social platforms, so I've been sceptical of doing that for Facebook Live."
The technical hurdles NPR has had to overcome with Facebook Live have ranged from connectivity issues to challenges presented by the Facebook Live API and working with Facebook to stream the audio from the broadcasts in stereo rather than mono.
The culture in the newsroom has also been a challenge, as journalists have to file for many other different platforms.
"We've been lucky to have the support of upper management to say [Facebook Live] is a priority, but when news breaks or something new is happening, just making sure we are a part of that is always difficult on a new medium, which is why having a coordinator is important."
"In programming this from the beginning, we wanted the content we produce to be representative of the entire organisation, not just news. So we've had weeks with only 15 videos and other weeks with 35 for example.
"But we want to make sure quality is always the focus over quantity, so we always listen to what the audience wants and try to solve people's problems," Todd said.
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