Facebook to Pay Internet Stars for Live Video

Jon Paul Piques gained social-media fame posting bawdy six-second videos on Vine. In April, however, he used Facebook to live-stream a behind-the-scenes look at Playboy.

He had a big incentive: Facebook Inc. is paying Mr. Piques up to $119,000 to use its new Facebook Live streaming service at least five times a month through September.

Mr. Piques, who is 30 years old and lives in Los Angeles, is among nearly two dozen YouTube creators, Vine stars and internet personalities Facebook is paying to create live broadcasts, according to a document reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Last month, the Journal reported that Facebook agreed to pay nearly 140 media companies, celebrities—including Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown($244,000), Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps($224,000) and “Star Trek” actor George Takei($114,000)—and others more than $50 million to create videos for Facebook Live.

The bulk of the money is going to media companies such as BuzzFeed and New York Times Co.

However, about 15% of the recipients named in the document are internet celebrities more typically seen on Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube,Twitter Inc.’s video-sharing platform Vine, disappearing photo app Snapchat or Facebook’s Instagram. Of the $50 million, Facebook has committed to paying about $2.2 million during several months to these internet-video creators, who have broadcast everything from the “dancing fountains” in Dubai to dance parties in the south of France.

Justin Osofsky, Facebook’s vice president of global operations and media partnerships, said the deals aren’t an “acquisition strategy to go after Vine and YouTube stars.” Rather the payments are intended to “encourage experimentation” on Facebook Live, he said.

Facebook hasn’t yet decided how it—or creators—will generate revenue directly from Facebook Live, which launched earlier this year.

The highest-paid internet celebrity is Ray William Johnson, well-known for his YouTube series The “Equals Three Show” where he adds humorous commentary to viral videos. Mr. Johnson stands to make about $224,000 during 5½ months, according to the document reviewed by the Journal. Mr. Johnson didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Such “influencers” tend to have smaller followings than media companies such as BuzzFeed, but their fans usually are younger and more likely to ‘like’ or share content. Advertisers have noticed and are paying influencers as much as $150,000 for a single promotional post on Instagram, according to marketing-analytics company Captiv8. Facebook, which owns Instagram, doesn’t get a cut of those deals.

Facebook isn’t the first tech company to pay for content to bolster a new offering. Beginning in 2011, YouTube paid more than $100 million to media companies, Hollywood production companies and online-video creators to create “channels” on the site. (The Wall Street Journal was among the participants, but the company has no arrangement with Facebook to create videos for Facebook Live, a Dow Jones spokeswoman has said.)

YouTube no longer pays creators directly, but offers them a share of revenue from advertising that accompanies their videos.

Creators say they are attracted by Facebook’s 1.65 billion users, the most of any network. In April, as many as 807,000 people simultaneously watched two BuzzFeed employees snap rubber bands at a watermelon until it exploded.

Facebook’s move into live video came as some internet celebrities, including Mr. Piques, soured on Vine, where they say users are less engaged.

A spokesman for Twitter, which owns Vine, said building better creative tools was a top priority, and noted its efforts to help Vine creators make money.

Creators say Facebook Live videos typically don’t attract as many views as other videos on Facebook, but they draw more comments because users interact with the content in real time.

Elise Strachan, host of the YouTube cooking channel “My Cupcake Addiction,” says a Facebook video may draw one million views, and 900 to 1,000 comments; a live video may get only 100,000 views, but as many as 3,000 comments.

“On my YouTube [show], it’s polished, it’s perfect,” Ms. Strachan said. “When I’m live, it’s really me, like dealing with when your kid eats half the ingredients and you have to improvise.” According to the document reviewed by the Journal, Ms. Strachan may be paid up to $196,000 during five months to create live videos. She declined to comment on her financial arrangement with Facebook.

Mr. Piques started posting videos on Vine in 2013, and many of his videos have been viewed millions of times. Friends encouraged Mr. Piques to try Facebook about 10 months ago, noting the social network’s emphasis on video.

In April, a Facebook executive approached him about Live, because of his rising popularity. Today, he has more than 7.5 million followers, up from 1.5 million a year ago.

In those meetings, Facebook officials made clear to Mr. Piques that live video was a big focus. “ Mark Zuckerberg told them to drop everything you’re doing and focus on Live,” Mr. Piques said in an interview.

Mr. Piques likes the immediate feedback from Facebook users. “I can see my followers’ comments right on the screen,” he said.

Now his manager wants him to try live-streaming a standup-comedy routine on Facebook. “Instead of doing it in front of 50 people, all nervous as hell, I can do it from my home and to people who already love me,” Mr. Piques said.

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