Inside the Facebook Watch Content Strategy

  • Leah Zitter
  • November 11, 2019

Contrary to Mark Zuckerberg’s predictions, Facebook Watch is no YouTube killer. The free on-demand video service started as a means to plug into digital video advertising. 

One year after its kick-off, Fidji Simo, Head of video programming, bragged that the platform had attracted 400 million viewers and was a resounding success. Critics were less certain. Meanwhile, its future seems as depressing as its present with the service not thriving and many media buyers ignoring it. In February, 2019, Digiday reported that two-thirds of Watch’s news programming will not be renewed.

History

Facebook Watch launched August 2017 to plug Facebook’s falling profits.  CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s initial intent was to gear it to Facebook’s inbuilt audience of teens and millennials, but as millennials shifted from Facebook to Instagram, Zuckenberg pivoted to audiences 30 years and older.

At least two video publishers told CNBC that Zuckebrg had promised them that Watch would help them earn 55 percent of ad revenue. Some in the publishing and advertising industry were skeptical that Facebook could convert users since people use the platform to keep up with family and friends rather than watch video.

Facebook Watch: Its lures

Facebook Watch is free. Viewers don’t have to subscribe to shows, as they do with Netflix or YouTube Premium. While you don’t get popular hits or critically acclaimed shows like House of Cards or Stranger Things, Facebook arranged with 20th Century Fox to bring you shows that include Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Firefly

You’ll need to scrounge to dig up some of Watch’s other viral items. These include:

Other hits star the likes of survivalist Bear Grylls and comedian Nicole Byer.

Facebook Watch: Its disincentives

 To date, only 50% of people are aware of and watch Facebook Watch, according to Michael Greeson, president and director of research at the Diffusion Group. In contrast to Google’s mammoth YouTube that has more than 1.8 billion users, Facebook’s Watch has 400 million intentional viewers, who watch at least a minute of video each month. Another 75 million accidental viewers visit daily and watch around 20 minutes. That said, these stats may be overrated, since Facebook users also watch clips found on other parts of the site, such as their News Feed, making what they watch on Watch difficult to measure. 

Streamlytics: Our Facebook Watch Research

In our survey, none of our targeted African American millennials mentioned they frequent the free video hub. That may be because few are aware of the service since its content exists in a separate tab with a nondescript icon. Facebook Watch, too, is loaded with ads. Finally, according to our own observations, hearsay, and reports, its shows are mediocre, poor-quality, and thoroughly unoriginal.

When we probed show content to see which age bracket it was slanted towards, we found that most of the platform’s top shows seemed to largely attract teenagers and post-college viewers, younger than their thirties or forties. These included Red Table Talk that “tackles real issues through candid conversation”; Queen America on a pageant coach with a troubled past; and MTV’s The Real World, where seven adolescent strangers live together and fight.

A prime exception was Sorry for Your Loss, with its show on a widow who struggles through bereavement. 

Some analysts had described Watch as family-oriented. Shows like the popular Ball in the Family may give that impression, but other hits like The Real World, and The Birch, a thriller centered on the dark relationship between a tree-monster and teen, contain violence and nudity. Around 50% of top shows were on dystopian fiction, comedies, and documentaries. 

We also noticed that most of the shows rev up Facebook’s message of Community, namely social connection. “The goal is to make video social,” Paresh Rajwat, director of video product management, told Variety, “it’s not just to watch content.”  

Indeed, in his 2018 message, Fidji Simo, head of Facebook’s video, articulated that he was after “Conversations, Community & Connections” and that “The ability to connect more deeply around content is what sets the video experience on Facebook apart.”

Facebook Watch: The future

Mark Zuckerberg predicts Facebook Watch will yield Facebook $12 billion by 2022. To that end, he plans to expand the hub to both desktop and to Facebook Lite, which caters to users from countries with lower Internet speeds. He also plans to increase partnerships and licensing to attract more viewers and to eventually turn Watch into a service that’s fully fed by third-party producers. These producers will get their cut of the revenue the company generates through ad breaks, while Facebook continues funding its original programming.

For Facebook analysts, the future seems less rosy. After all the platform is free. So with that said, you get what you pay for.

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About Leah Zitter

Dr. Leah Zitter has a Ph.D. in Psychology Research with a focus on Behavioral Neuroscience and over a decade of experience as an analyst, covering emerging technology, innovation, and media. She trained as an investigative journalist at the Center for Near East Policy Research, is a researcher at heart and enjoys exploring technology’s impact on culture and society.