Facebook Is in an Arms Race With Snapchat When it Comes to Live Video


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Many things have been said about Facebook (FB) co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, some of them complimentary and some not. But you can say one thing for the social network CEO: When he has a goal in mind, he is able to get the entire company moving in a single direction, in a way that many chief executives of companies worth $320 billion can’t. And the direction for the foreseeable future is video.

In fact, the target Zuckerberg has in mind isn’t just video, it’s live video—as exemplified by the network’s Facebook Live streaming service. Released in August of last year for celebrities, it was opened up to the public in January, and on Wednesday Facebook released a suite of new features.

To make it easier for users to find video, Facebook has added a new tab to the mobile app, and it comes with a map so users can see where people are sharing or streaming. Facebook is also adding the ability to use filters, in much the same way Instagram does, and a real-time reaction feature allows users to respond to a video live.

The Facebook founder would like us to think that he’s investing all these resources because live video is a great tool for “bringing people together.” To some extent that’s true, since bringing people together is something advertisers like. But it’s equally likely that Zuckerberg’s hand has been forced by the fact that the social network is losing ground rapidly to Snapchat.

Snapchat, which Facebook tried to acquire in 2013 for $3 billion (it’s now worth about $15 billion), has spent the past couple of years becoming a leader in streaming video. Clips shared on the service may disappear after a set period of time, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable. And Snapchat now has more than 8 billion video views a day, roughly the same as Facebook.

In a sense, it’s an arms race in video, and Snapchat is in the lead. So Facebook is doing everything it can to build its platform, which reportedly includes paying celebrities to use and endorse the service. In some cases even paying media companies like BuzzFeed to do so. “All hands on deck,” you can almost hear the Facebook CEO yell. “Man the torpedoes!”

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