Facebook’s journey to becoming a dominant platform for video has been, in the context of social media, relatively long and patient. Where the timeline was once dominated by status updates and pictures, algorithmic changes with an emphasis on promoting video content has transformed it. Scroll through today’s incarnation of Facebook and you’re presented with a reel of autoplaying videos, from both users and brands alike, with only very popular picture content or that of your closest friends also making the cut.
Essentially, the hierarchy at Facebook has recognised that video is an area of growth that the world’s biggest social media site can’t afford not to take full advantage of, and Zuckerberg and co. have all-but turned the News Feed into an endless catalogue of currently popular video content. The site’s algorithms have also been tweaked to allow for a greater number of longer videos to rank highly on the feed. In January, for example, the old ‘percentage completion’ metric was bolstered with a number of other signifiers in an attempt to avoid favouring shorter videos - like turning the sound on, going fullscreen, turning on HD, etc.
The next logical step was the creation of a Facebook product dedicated solely to video. And, as expected, early August saw the announcement of Watch, a tab for video programming that Facebook hopes will host the first true ‘social TV.’ Watch will feature original programming, both paid for by Facebook itself and created by users. The tab will, naturally, become personalized to users’ interests over time and will begin to be rolled out to some users over the coming days. According to the Verge, shows that will be available immediately on Watch will include Nas Daily, Gabby Bernstein, and Kitchen Little, as well as shows from the likes of Buzzfeed, Condè Nast, and ATTN. A deal has also been struck with Major League Baseball to stream one live game per week on the service.
Up until this point, Snapchat has been winning the war for the younger demographic with regard to professional video content, and Facebook will be hoping that Watch can be another step in wresting back control from its LA rival. It will fund original content - much like both YouTube and Snapchat have already been doing - and will be pushing it to its 1.32 billion daily users in an attempt to unlock a lucrative new revenue stream. Facebook is running out of ad space on its News Feed, and encouraging users to watch both longer-form video as well as ads within its apps is critical is it wants to see ad revenue continue to grow. Under the current terms of Watch, Facebook’s video partners will earn 55% of the ad revenue from the videos, with Facebook keeping the other 45%.
‘We hope Watch will be home to a wide range of shows — from reality to comedy to live sports,’ CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post. ‘Some will be made by professional creators, and others from regular people in our community.’ Over time, Facebook expects it will let anyone publish on Watch, with the number of shows likely to be in the hundreds by the time it’s available globally. Snatching users away from Youtube will be no easy task, and Watch also faces serious competition from the likes of Netflix, HBO, Amazon, Disney, Hulu, etc. Facebook is in a powerful position given its number of users, though, and it will be interesting to see if it can cement itself as a true home of video. As put by TechCrunch, ‘Facebook’s been trying to eat the whole internet for years now.’ Watch is just another piece of that jigsaw.