The next time former New York Yankees superstar and The Players' Tribune founder Derek Jeter gives a large address to talk about his Hall of Fame-worthy career or how he’s helping to give athletes a voice, every single one of his millions of Facebook followers could have the opportunity to tune in live and even ask questions.
There have long been ways for celebrities, athletes, or company executives to speak to, and interact with, large numbers of people in near real-time, but they’ve been limited to text-based tools such as Twitter Q&As, Reddit AMAs, and the like. It’s never been possible at massive scale with live video.
That’s changing today, with the launch by BlueJeans Networks' Primetime service for Facebook Live. Already a tool used by prominent companies like Facebook, The Players' Tribune, the Sundance Film Festival, TED, as well as celebrities, athletes, and political figures such as Sheryl Sandberg, Drew Brees, David Ortiz, Chelsea Clinton, and others to broadcast things like internal town halls or all-hands meetings, Primetime now works on Facebook Live. That means the live streams can be seen, and interacted with, by anyone on Facebook.
The integration also means that for the first time, Facebook Live can be a many-to-many platform rather than a one-to-many system. It is, said BlueJeans Networks CEO Krish Ramakrishnan, the marriage of TV and social media.
Silicon Valley-based BlueJeans Networks is a leader in video conferencing technology, and a wide variety of big-name companies are already using Primetime for internal broadcasting purposes. But the company is now thinking much bigger by extending the service to Facebook Live.
While it’s of course impossible to allow millions of people to simultaneously ask questions during a live broadcast, Primetime has a built-in moderation system that allows those running live broadcasts to queue up questions. The system has a "green screen" tool that lets them ensure that someone wanting to participate has an quality microphone, sounds good, and that their question is appropriate for the forum.
BlueJeans Networks plans on making its Facebook Live integration free to all current Primetime customers, as well as those who sign up for Primetime in the next 30 days. The company said it is still figuring out how to price the service for those who sign up after two months.
Primetime customers pay for the amount of time they use the system, as well as the size of the audience. An average large corporate broadcast costs about $2,500, BlueJeans Networks said, while pricing for smaller events varies.
While Facebook has itself been a Primetime customer, the Facebook Live integration is based entirely on BlueJeans Networks’ use of Facebook Live APIs, Ramakrishnan explained. However, he said, the two companies are having conversations to "extend" the service and to "take it to the next level."
Added Ramakrishnan, both Facebook and BlueJeans Networks see the integration as marrying broadcast scale with social media, something that’s never been done before. "This is what both companies are excited about," he said.
Facebook would not directly address Ramakrishnan’s assertion of ongoing discussions between the companies.
A Facebook representative did tell Fast Company that "since launching the Live API at F8 earlier this year, we’ve been thrilled by the incredible live experiences that developers have enabled for publishers, organizations, and public figures alike. We now have more than 200 developers integrated with the Live API, and they’ve opened up a range of possibilities for broadcasters. We know that people enjoy going live with another person, so it’s exciting to see integrations that make it easier for multiple people in different locations to go live together and share the moment with their audiences on Facebook."
To Ramakrishnan, the roster of people and companies that will want to utilize Primetime on Facebook Live is broad, and includes company town halls, sports league draft days, and even political debates.
While this year’s presidential candidates are obviously not utilizing the service, Ramakrishnan said he expects the future of political debates to be on a service like this, given that it enables multiple people in multiple locations to talk live to large-scale audiences, much like TV, while also giving those watching the ability to directly participate.
"You can imagine how you’re watching CNN from your sofa," he said, "and you say, ‘I want to be part of that, I want to ask a question.’ This is the future."