Live streaming is still nascent on Facebook, but early data suggests it might help the company grow video watch time on its platform.

On Aug. 5, Facebook launched its first live streaming feature. For now, it’s only available for celebrities and other public figures who have verified pages on Facebook, offering them a way to connect with fans in a live setting.

According to data from Newswhip, a tracker of social trends and activity, the live streams are already getting huge engagement on Facebook. The company tracked the performance of a 32-minute live video posted by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson on his Facebook page on Aug. 5. The video has received more than 1.5 million views since but has also generated nearly 80,000 likes, more than 8,600 shares and more than 8,600 comments.

The number of comments is the key metric here, according to Newswhip, which did some math to find that there was a far higher percentage of comments on The Rock’s live video than nine of his other most-shared videos from the past month: 9 percent of all interactions (shares, likes and comments) on the live video were comments versus an average of 1.7 percent for the other videos.

Comments matter in this scenario because they are indicative of people actually spending time and watching the content, said Liam Corcoran, Newswhip’s head of communications. “Comments show an added degree of engagement due to the added action required by the commenter,” he said. “Social media editors and audience-dev teams frequently look to the tone and volume of Facebook commenting to gauge overall reaction to a particular post.”

Other personalities have seen similarly strong engagement results. Serena Williams, along with The Rock, Lindsey Vonn, Kevin Hart and a bunch of other celebrities, are part of Facebook’s live streaming pilot. She has posted eight live videos since Aug. 5 — which unlike The Rock’s half-hour stream range from five seconds to four minutes — and based on some quick number-crunching by Digiday, 12.5 percent of the interactions for those videos were comments.

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It makes sense there would be a higher number of comments on live versus on-demand video. On live videos, viewers are encouraged to interact with the host and ask questions. And admittedly, less than a month into Facebook’s live video efforts, the sample size is small.

But if a higher level of engagement proves to be the trend in Facebook’s live video efforts, it could help the company against a criticism lobbed against it by video creators, which is that while Facebook’s view counts are staggering, watch time on the platform isn’t great.

Take, for instance, a recent blog post by Hank Green in which the YouTube star showed how YouTube far outperformed Facebook when it came to viewer retention as early as 30 seconds into a video. For his video called “19 Ways Not to Suck on the Internet,” more than 70 percent of YouTube viewers stuck around through the end of the four-minute clip. On Facebook, the number had dipped to 21 percent by the 30-second mark.

That’s a problem. For many YouTubers, including Green, it’s disingenuous for Facebook to claim large view counts when data suggest that many people aren’t actually watching the entire videos.

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“From a commercial perspective, similar to what you might see on QVC or HSN, I as a producer or advertiser want to see an engaged community that is actually taking action and not just sitting there passively,” added Ronald C. Pruett, Jr, co-founder of Roker Labs, a research and marketing division of Al Roker’s production company that’s focused on live streaming video platforms.

Live video could provide at least one solution. Of course, Facebook has to first open the capability to video creators like Green — and not just traditional-media celebrities — for it to happen.

“This will come down to the quality of what’s on offer,” said Corcoran. “Restricting the feature to celebrities and other public figures for now is probably a wise move. The last thing they probably want is news feeds being flooded by mundane live streams.”

Image via Twin Design / Shutterstock.com

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