Al Jazeera’s trying to use Facebook Live for its TV feed

The conventional thinking on Facebook Live — if something new can already have conventional thinking — is that the live video on the sprawling social platform should be of a different type than what works on broadcast TV.

But Al Jazeera English is betting on the simple and, last weekend, plugged in its 24-hour live TV feed and streamed it through a Continuous Live feed on Facebook. Al Jazeera also streamed several 90-minute segments to test how well these performed, as the continuous live feed can’t be saved or re-watched, and users aren’t notified when they are live.

The approach is similar to what Al Jazeera is doing on YouTube, where it broadcasts its TV feed.

“People watch something to be taken somewhere they haven’t been before and interact with things that they wouldn’t normally,” digital editor Yasir Khan told Digiday. “This will be true of Facebook Live. We tell the story of the person rather than the backdrop. We have reports on the Ugandan election and politics in the Philippines. So we are well-placed because of the privileged access we have.”

Al Jazeera’s 10-minute live video from its TV stream on June 18, which contains footage on Rio’s huge financial hole from hosting the Olympics, generated 30,000 views in real time, and has since doubled to nearly 60,000. Viewers peaked at 2,000. By comparison, Sky News live videos have had around 35,000, and Reuters live videos are averaging between 10,000 and 30,000 views.

“A more justified use case would be a breaking news segment from the TV feed that is still of interest, for instance, the EgyptAir hijacking,” said Ziad Ramley, lead producer, social media and platforms.

Crucially, by live-streaming its TV feed, the element of interactivity with the audience is lost. Khan believes that including audience comments builds loyalty and shows viewers they are a stakeholder in the content. So Al Jazeera is now also shooting live videos of discussion sessions with analysts, like this one with Tibet’s prime minister in exile, Lobsang Sangay, or the state of democracy in East Africa.

While the shelf life of these videos is longer, going forward, Al Jazeera is figuring out how to produce more live videos from the field where it has 50 correspondents scattered around the world. Toward that end, it’s been conducting dry runs: Al Jazeera is filming footage of its correspondents without publishing it to Facebook Live, instead wanting to make sure it has all logistics figured out before rolling out a new workflow to its reporters. The network prefers to make its mistakes outside of the public eye.

“It’s a learning curve; we’re loath to release anything before we achieve success out of a pilot phase,” said Khan. Operational kinks, like figuring out how to relay viewer comments to the presenter in real time, are still being ironed out.

Despite this, it needs to capture the authenticity and excitement that comes with live coverage too. “We felt that other people were doing tons of live videos a day, but there was no editorial justification for going live,” explains Ramley. “Breaking news will be a major determining factor on whether we go live. This is where our reach and position is our strength. Rarely will you get an interview that is that real; we’re really taking the viewer into that story.”

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