There's going to be a war in 2017. It's going to be savage, all-out and no-holds-barred. It's going to be fought on the main social media platforms and it's going be over... live video. In December 2016 both Twitter and Instagram announced a roll-out of live video on their platforms, competing directly with Facebook's own live video function. For Twitter, the move was as simple as integrating Periscope into the platform. For Instagram, the move meant producing an entirely new function that competes more with Snapchat than with Facebook.
If you want to be a live video expert, these are the three contenders you need to watch closely.
Facebook has the most battlefield experience, beginning its limited experiments with live video on US iPhones in December 2015. It's used that time wisely, building up an impressive arsenal.
1. Sheer Size
As the largest social media platform, Facebook brings the biggest potential audience. Your Facebook page is likely to have more followers than your Twitter or Instagram streams, giving you the biggest potential audience.
2. Great Use Of Notifications
Facebook uses its notifications to tell people when someone they're following is broadcasting live. That's a powerful call that makes the most of that big audience.
3. Live Reactions
All the platforms let broadcasters see viewer comments in real time but Facebook's range of live reactions also provides a good idea of how people are feeling as they watch. They provide much more accurate feedback than the hearts currently offered by Twitter and Instagram.
4. Real Metrics
Facebook is also currently unique in offering more advanced broadcasters metrics. After the broadcast, you can see how many people saw the video as well as the largest number of people watching at the same time. Facebook Live is where you'll be able to run content tests and check results.
This is a feature idea that Facebook says came from users. The filters let you do some quick editing while broadcasting. That might be fun for a live chat between friends but I doubt it will offer too much to business broadcasts.
Even without split-screen videos, those strengths make Facebook Live the biggest fighter in the ring but it's not unbeatable. It has some weak spots.
Facebook's size means that everyone else is on it so you'll have to fight hard for attention. Facebook is a platform that covers a lot of general content and has a lot of distractions.
Everyone and their aunt is on Facebook, but who wants to be on the same social media platform as their aunt? Instagram's audience might be smaller but it's also younger and more devoted.
Facebook's standout features -- the functions you can expect to see other platforms copying over the next twelve months -- are its metrics and its reactions. Instagram and Twitter will have to work hard to figure out a good defense against them.
Twitter's purchase of Periscope in early 2015 showed that it was serious about moving into live video. After allowing Twitter users to watch Periscope broadcast in their streams, it's now added Periscope's live video to Twitter itself. As of this article, it doesn't have an official name. But my money is on it being called Twitter Live.
1. Comments and Reactions
Like Instagram and Facebook, Twitter shows broadcasters comments as viewers make them. It also lets viewers press the "heart" button to give a round of applause as they watch.
2. Professional Audiences
Connections on Facebook are largely between friends and relations: people who already know each other. Twitter's connections are between people who'd like to know each other. That might make Twitter a more natural platform for niched professional content.
3. Live Announcements
Twitter has also built a niche for itself as a platform for breaking news. Expect to see people using Twitter rather than Facebook to broadcast from the scene of news events.
Twitter has struggled recently to build its audience and to attract advertisers. Whether Twitter Live will help it to win that battle will depend in part on how quickly it can strengthen the feature's weak points.
1. No Metrics
Without knowing how well a video has performed broadcasters will always be reluctant to keep experimenting. Basic viewer count and minutes viewed is a good start, but until the metrics are complete, expect brands to play with content but to hold off on big campaigns.
2. Small Audience
With 313 million monthly active users, Twitter is little more than half the size of Instagram and reaches a fraction of Facebook's 1.79 billion monthly users. Broadcast on Twitter and you're likely to have the smallest audience of the three platforms.
Despite its small size, Twitter can land a sucker punch by adding the power of Periscope. By combining the two platforms, Twitter can bring its audience both an established live video functionality and broadcasters already accustomed to using its service.
Instagram's decision to roll out a live video future might well have been parent company Facebook's attempt to steal ground from rival image-sharing platform Snapchat. The move, though, will have broadcasters wondering where to broadcast their videos and how to make the three platforms work together.
1. A Public Community
Start watching a live video on Instagram and everyone can see you've joined the audience. While that raises privacy issues, it also helps broadcasters to create a community out of people with a shared experience and a shared interest.
2. An Audience Ready For Images
Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Instagram is built around the image. Users are used to looking at pictures and they'll be ready to look at moving images too.
Like Facebook, Instagram will send users a notification when someone they follow is broadcasting a live video. An algorithm makes sure that only people interested in the video are shown the notification.
4. A Dedicated Audience
Some brands have talked of their Instagram followers as being particularly loyal. They're planning to use Instagram to promote Facebook campaigns and to deliver a look behind the scenes of the content shown on other platforms.
While Instagram Live may turn out to be an effective addition for the platform's users, for brands, it does pose some challenges.
1. No Metrics
Like Twitter, Instagram still isn't giving out metrics for its videos. Expect that to change quickly but until then, broadcasters will experiment before rolling out serious campaigns.
2. Temporary Content
Instagram Live's videos vanish as soon as they're broadcast. While that makes them urgent and valuable, and it works on Snapchat, it also limits the audience and the lifespan of valuable content.
Instagram's secret power lies in the close relationship that brands, particularly retail brands, are able to build with their audiences. Users accustomed to seeing beautiful pictures posted by brands will want to see beautiful live videos too.
Expect Facebook Live to dominate the field in the short term, helped by its big audience and its metrics. But Instagram and Twitter are not taking it lying down. And expect some more big challengers on the horizon...
The Challengers In Waiting
Having three big fighters in the field just isn't enough. LinkedIn already allows short videos and is expected to join the battle in 2017 with live videos from influencers... then everyone else. Expect to see live Q&As with leading executives as the platform battles for B2B audiences.
Snapchat too, is likely to go live with videos aimed primarily at young viewers but also the kind of general audience now on Facebook and Instagram. Snapchat may well be the big surprise that delivers a painful blow to the market's biggest fighters. In fact, I believe the release of Snapchat's Spectacles is more about live than it is capturing 10-second snaps in first person.
After The Dust Settles
Although each of the platforms will be in competition for broadcasters and viewers, in practice, brands are likely to use all of them. Some of the content will be recycled from one platform to another. Some of it will be unique. And some will promote the content on other platforms helping to make the most of the strengths of each. When the social media platforms fight, it's always the brands that win.