Markman Capital Insight

Facebook Live threatens reality TV

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Facebook Live changes everything. It’s gripping. It’s real. It’s immediate. And now it looks like it’s ready to kill the last remaining stronghold of network television.

Philandro Castille, his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds and her small daughter were pulled over in the afternoon on July 6 in Falcon Heights, Minnesota for a routine traffic violation. It did not go well. Castille was shot by the suburban cop several times when reportedly he reached for identification. As he lay bleeding, Reynolds calmly picked up her phone, connected to Facebook and began to live stream the aftermath on Facebook Live as she narrated. That chilling video was viewed millions of times as the outrage spread nationally.

A day later several thousand people across the country marched in protest. In Dallas, a city well regarded for its progressive community policing, chaos unfolded when a sniper started shooting at police officers accompanying the protesters. As other officers heroically rushed toward the danger he sprayed bullets indiscriminately into the sea of blue, wounding eleven, killing five. Shocked marchers scattered in the crossfire. Michael Kevin Bautista, a photojournalist and psychology student took out his smart phone and began to stream the terrifying events on Facebook Live. That grainy, gripping video has now been viewed and shared millions of times on social media.

Facebook Live is the new reality TV -- only its real and most important, it’s live.

This couldn’t come at a worse time for television. Besieged by on demand services like Netflix (NFLX), viewership has been in slow decline across all demographic groups for years. The damage has been especially startling for the important 18-34 age group. Millennials grew up on the Internet and they’re now addicted to their smart phones. They’re drifting away from traditional marketer venues like network television. The only pull toward TV is live programming.Facebook Live is a direct attack. It’s gritty, voyeuristic, astonishingly addictive and live. In fact, it’s under reported Live Map feature lets you peer into the lives of people in more than 60 countries as they live stream their stories. Diamond Reynolds and Michael Kevin Bautista are just two in tens of thousands of stories waiting to be watched.

When Facebook Live launched for celebrities in August 2015 it was following a trend. Meerkat and Twitter’s (TWTR) Periscope had already launched live steaming applications that did most of the same things. What Facebook brought was an instant audience, your friends and family. Early stage beta testing with celebrities like Dwayne Johnson proved the concept. By the time the application reached full release in April 2016 it was a polished gem, ready for the masses.

And Facebook knew they had something big. It courted the developer community with an open application program interface and made subtle changes in the Newsfeed algorithm to accommodate more video and a larger number of posts from friends and family. Facebook wanted you to start watching because it knew you wouldn’t be able to stop.

New and old media have been squabbling over attention for a long time. The gains for Internet firms like Facebook, Netflix and Google have been mostly incremental. Television executives took solace in the fact live events would always draw viewers back to the fold. Facebook Live is likely to challenge that idea. This is good for Facebook, which is still a buy on every significant dip.

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About Jon Markman:  A pioneer in the development of stock-rating systems and screening software, Jon Markman is co-inventor on two Microsoft patents and author of the bestselling books The New Day Trader Advantage, Swing Trading and Online Investing, as well as the annotated edition of Reminiscences of a Stock Operator.  He was portfolio manager and senior investment strategist at a multi-strategy hedge fund from 2002 to 2005; managing editor and columnist at CNBC on MSN Money from 1997 to 2002; and an editor, investments columnist and investigative reporter at the Los Angeles Times from 1984 to 1997.

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