Enter Player Two! Facebook Unveils ‘Watch’

It’s happened. Late last Wednesday night, Mark Zuckerberg, himself, took to Facebook to announce Facebook Watch, their original video content service. The Watch tab to be featured on the Facebook website interface will feature original scripted and unscripted content from a wide range of genres. Today, we’ll be running down a number of the logistics of Facebook Watch (what set’s it apart, who’s a part of it, etc). We’ll also give some thoughts on the complete implications of a new player in the streaming services lineup.

Reasons for Facebook Watch

It’s evident in Facebook’s recent years of investing where they wanted to take their company. Last year, they attempted to lead the way in live-broadcasting in smartphones, stumbling in some ways in the wake of Snapchat. What they’ve discovered is that the longer a video is, the more audience traction it receives. Nick Cicero, chief executive of Delmondo, who’s providing analytics services to Facebook, says, “The longer a video, the more engaged people are… They’re staying longer and having more interactions.”

The digital video opportunities are vast and varied, especially when it comes to advertising. According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, companies are spending $10 million in the digital video ad sector in the U.S, up 85% within the last two years. The advertising community predicts “robust spend optimism” in digital video, which is the most corporate buzzword-y phrase I’ve ever heard. But, the excitement is there. Facebook’s model is perfect for advertisers––the social media company is designed for users to experience repeat visits each day. Every time a person goes on Facebook, they see video ads (usually tailored towards their interests), which brings in 10 times the cash of a traditional text and image ad.

Nuts and Bolts of Facebook Watch

There are a ton of high-caliber names involved with Facebook Watch, including The Atlantic, Business Insider, Vox, BuzzFeed, Condé Nast Entertainment, MLB, and more. These brands, publishers, and companies will produce shows ranging in genre: comedy, news, and live sports. This whole initiative is geared to overtake the video ad spending space, making TV platforms more and more obsolete. Watchlist is the function of keeping up with the shows that you, your friends, and your group members are interested in. See, it transforms the way people view video by adding in the live-chat and discussion elements. (I guess that solves the essential problem of watch parties––everyone is always on their phones, usually on Facebook.)

The breadth of shows will vary from 20 to 30 minute episodic concepts to shorter show ideas that last 5 to 10 minutes. Reportedly, Facebook will spend upwards of $250,000 per episode of the longer concepts and $10-35,000 per episode for the shorter shows. That probably won’t seem like a lot to a company like Facebook who controls $32 billion. That’s quite a bit more than Netflix, who is $20 billion in debt. The difference between the two, most likely, will be that Netflix invests in high-quality, Emmy-nominated fare, while Facebook seeks to have lots of mild successes that rake in the ad revenue.

Facebook intends for these videos to be streamed on all platforms––mobile, desktop, tablet, and TV apps. They’re banking on the social factor of their business model. “Watching video on Facebook has the incredible power to connect people, spark conversation and foster community,” Daniel Danker, director of product at Facebook, wrote in a recent blog post. “On Facebook, videos are discovered through friends and bring communities together. As more and more people enjoy this experience, we’ve learned that people like the serendipity of discovering videos in News Feed, but they also want a dedicated place they can go to watch videos.” Facebook is carving out their own path and will introduce their roster of shows to that community in a wide range of access points, unlike Snapchat who only focuses on mobile viewership.

What are the Larger Implications?

The ripples caused from this announcement only add to video’s move to online viewing. This is by no means a death knell for traditional TV network models––they just have to adapt how they distribute their quality programming. A concern for Facebook Watch: they throw money at all kinds of content based on what’s hot in the moment. The lightning in a bottle that quantifies viral videos is like a flashfire in that they ignite, burst, and die. What will be interesting is how Facebook, whose current videos are prone to the compulsory, ever-evolving nature of virality, can sustain a show for multiple seasons. (Will they even have seasons?)

Netflix is $20 billion in debt, but they see it as a longer-term investment for their company. They have a goal of 50% original content in their video library. Since their breakout hit of House of Cards, they have become Emmy contenders, earning 91 Emmy nominations just this year. Their subscription pool has increased 25% since 2016, making their idea of “spending money to make money” a viable business model. If you compare the rosters of content both Facebook and Netflix boast, the philosophy of quality over quantity will be heavily exercised between these two video streaming giants. I mean, Netflix has Stranger Things. Top that, Facebook Watch!

The more overarching question is who will win as the cultural benchmark or the financial goliath? Facebook plans to churn out a range of content that has broader appeal and will target users for ad revenue. Netflix is more interested in quality programming that ushers in waves of subscribers who yearn for their content. We certainly live in an interesting time for content creation.

by Benton Olivares