This week, Facebook is quietly deploying a few major changes to a product that’s becoming increasingly prevalent in the way news is reported: Facebook Live.
Now, Live videos can go full screen and free of comments on mobile, rather than being presented alongside the comment feed. Both broadcasters and viewers will have the option to disable emoticons and comments during live streams, in what Facebook calls “video only” mode. Meanwhile, videos can now last for up to four hours, instead of the old maximum of 90 minutes.
In short, Facebook Live is starting to looking less like a streaming service full of endless user commentary–and a lot more like the full-screen experience of conventional television.
While Facebook declined to comment on the design changes, it’s easy to theorize why they’re coming now. These changes pave the way for Facebook to rebuild itself as a channel-surfing TV experience to rival your Comcast subscription (if it ever wanted to). And coupled with extended broadcast times, it opens the doors for Facebook Live to document more major events as they unfold. Any broadcast can become its own mini C-SPAN, with larger and longer videos to entice us all to watch more. Given that C-SPAN actually streamed using Periscope during the Democratic sit-in, that’s not such a crazy possibility.
Meanwhile, tragic events like the shooting of Philando Castile are becoming almost commonplace on the service. U.S. culture has reached a boiling point this summer, helped along by the most contentious election season in decades–much of which is being streamed on the service, too.
With its new version of Facebook Live, Facebook seems to be embracing another side of itself: One where the media is first and the social is second. Videos may be filmed by the people, but that doesn’t mean they’ll instantly be buried in the opinions of other users. Maybe when we start talking less, we’ll listen more.