I think we saw last week that Facebook Live could become the most intelligent cable news network ever built, said Jonathan Klein, a former president of CNN, who now runs a digital media company called Tapp. With more than 1.65 billion users, he said, Facebook effectively has one and a half billion news bureaus to capture news, and theyre capable of doing things that a cable news network could only dream of doing.
Yes, Mr. Klein is speculating about Facebooks potential path. At this point, neither Facebook nor Twitter is anything close to a TV news network. Facebook Live was started just a few months ago in partnership with several news organizations (including The New York Times, which receives payments from Facebook for producing Live videos). Until last week, it was best known for gonzo journalism involving weird tricks with food. Twitters live service, Periscope, is older, but it too is better thought of as a series of one-off clips than a comprehensive source of news.
But you can bet both services will expand their horizons. Twitter announced this week that it was streaming the Democratic and Republican conventions in partnership with CBS News. It also announced a plan to stream Bloombergs TV shows, and it has a deal to show National Football League games later this year.
Photo The CNN anchor Don Lemon preparing to go on television after the mass shooting last month at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. Cables grip on breaking news is under threat by apps like Facebook Live and Periscope, from Twitter. Credit Sam Hodgson for The New York Times Its not clear yet what shape Facebooks plans for Live will take, especially since the company has been reluctant to think of itself as a news company. Yet it wouldnt take many deals and product changes to turn Facebook into a worthy substitute for one of the cable news networks.
Soon you might log on to Facebook and see, right at the top of your feed, a collection of videos produced by professionals and amateurs and tailored to your interests breaking news and analysis related to topics you like, all of which load instantly in your feed, ad-free, and without any of the constant, interminable waiting for stuff to happen that characterizes traditional cable news.
As a business matter, this might be a danger for TV. As Matt Rosoff explained last week in Business Insider, live coverage was supposed to be the industrys steadiest bulwark against the internet. Thanks to online networks like Netflix, people are dropping cable subscriptions as if they were toxic; one of the few remaining reasons to keep paying a monthly fee is to watch live news and sports, which are both difficult to get online.
Continue reading the main storyNow that rampart is disappearing. If you turned on one of the cable news networks last week, you would have most likely seen videos lifted straight from streaming apps playing in endless televised loops. If you watched for more than a few minutes, you would have been forgiven for wondering, Wait, if all this video is coming from Facebook, why am I watching TV?
Then theres TV newss demographic cliff. People who regularly watch cable news are old. According to statistics compiled at the end of last year, CNNs prime-time audience was the youngest in cable news with a median age of 59. The median age of Fox Newss prime-time audience is 68. (TV news isnt alone here. The median age of a subscriber to The New York Timess digital edition is 54; for print subscribers, its 60. But of course, we all know that with age comes sophistication.)
In the past, an aged audience might not have raised red flags, because it was generally the case that younger people grew into their parents news habits. But as online alternatives improve, the less likely that is to happen.
The next generation just doesnt ever intend to watch the 6 oclock or 11 oclock or any other newscast, said Andrew Heyward, a former president of CBS News who is now a visiting researcher at the MIT Media Lab.
Its possible to make too much of the threat that live streaming poses to TV news. Citizen journalism has gotten a lot of attention from techno-optimists in the last decade, but blogging, tweeting, podcasting and everything else havent replaced traditional journalism so much as they have expanded its tone and range. Thats likely to happen on TV too; streaming apps wont kill CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, but as the apps become more popular, they will force TV news providers to shift their approach to coverage.
The more chaotic and unstructured the world of online live video becomes, the more important the curator, analyst or honest broker of information can be, Mr. Heyward said.
In the best situation, TV news could become just such an honest broker: Instead of showing you only the news of the day and the most superficial hot-take debates surrounding it, TV networks could respond to the internet by pumping more resources into in-depth reporting, analysis and explanation, cultivating a wider range of perspectives.
As Mr. Klein put it, Maybe all these years, the importance of scintillating video has been overblown, and the mission for news outlets could be to help viewers understand what all that video really means.