Facebook Goes After New Market With Live Streaming Audio Service

Updated from 1:21 p.m. with additional information and analysis.

Facebook (FB) users can now tune into radio-like broadcasts that span everything from book readings to interviews using the social networking site's new Live Audio feature. 

Live Audio comes as Facebook continues to build out its toolkit of live streaming features, including Live 360, the immersive video broadcasting platform that it started rolling out last week. In November, Facebook's Instagram also launched a live broadcasting feature. 

"We know that sometimes publishers want to tell a story on Facebook with words and not video," Facebook wrote in a blog post late yesterday. "Just as with live video on Facebook, listeners can discover live audio content in News Feed, ask questions and leave reactions in real time during the broadcast, and easily share with their friends."

Facebook has been adding new services and features as a means of keeping users hooked on the social networking site. Last month, Facebook rolled out Instant Games, a feature that brings HTML5 games onto the platform and eliminates the need for users to download additional apps. 

Live Audio is likely another jab at increasing the time users spend on Facebook, said Jan Dawson, an analyst at market research firm Jackdaw Research. 

"Live Audio is basically radio, and so Facebook is acknowledging that people spend time listening to spoken word and other non-music content, and they may as well do it through Facebook," Dawson said by email. "So I don't see this as a direct competitive response, but rather just another attempt to soak up more of people's available time."

For now, only select groups can host Live Audio broadcasts, including BBC World Service, Harper Collins and British talk radio station LBC. The service will become available to all users beginning in 2017. 

The audio-only feature makes it easier for users to post content from areas that have a weak network signal. It also allows users to listen in on broadcasts while browsing other parts of Facebook, though Android users have the added capability of being able to close the Facebook app and continue listening to Live Audio posts.

Notifications of Live Audio posts will be sent to a Facebook Page's Live subscribers, according to Tech Crunch. The broadcasts can stream for as long as four hours.

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