Last week, Facebook announced Facebook Watch. Everything Mark Zuckerberg hinted at for the past year – from making Facebook a mobile-first to a video-first platform – has come true. With 6 out of 10 users preferring online viewing to traditional TV, it’s no surprise that Facebook wanted in on the video game. Although the video tab has not fully rolled out across desktop and mobile, the Aug. 9 announcement let the world know that Facebook was no longer quietly working on video behind the scenes. Zuckerberg’s vision of Facebook as a video-first platform is rolling out as a reality.
What does this mean for content creators and advertisers? It means there’s another platform to consider. However, it’s not a platform you can treat like any other. Facebook Watch will require some platform-specific considerations, so let’s look at what Watch is and what Watch isn’t.
Watch is starting with premium content
Taking a page from the Netflix, Hulu and YouTube Red playbook, Facebook Watch will start with original content. This original content will, at first, be limited to a select group of creators. These select few makers will create shows made up of episodes. In an interesting twist, these episodes can be recorded or live.
Given the reach of live videos on both Facebook and YouTube, the ability for shows to be live (which requires audience buy-in to tune in at a certain time) indicates a swing back to scheduled programming. The initial content that is being offered on Facebook Watch takes a page from other successful shows. There will be content from major players such as A+E and also content from internet heavy-hitters like Tastemade and Mashable. According to this Buzzfeed article, Facebook is paying for content to start off.
By starting with limited, quality content, Facebook is setting Watch up for success. If people learn early that they can find related, quality content, then they are more likely to continue to use Facebook Watch.
Will the Watchlist do better than Playlists?
Facebook promises no one will miss out on their favorite content because there will be watchlists. Now, many YouTube creators note that playlists don’t drive views as much as related and organic discovery. However, on YouTube, playlists are used within the algorithm for ranking.
It will be interesting to see if Facebook Watch viewer behavior is conducive to watchlists or if they will be similar to YouTube playlists – important for search, but not reflecting viewer behavior.
Will people actually engage with Facebook Watch?
People go to Facebook to connect. They go to YouTube to learn and be entertained. Will Facebook users in turn decide to watch?
To answer that question, Facebook is coming out swinging with new content. But it’s playing to content that plays well – like videos by Tastemade.
One of Tastemade’s made-for-YouTube-Watch shows will have kids learning how to make a recipe, then explaining that recipe to professional chefs. Hilarity ensues, right? This content will perform well because it’s a blend of bite-sized content and humor. You’ve got three minutes to spare to watch a kindergartener tell a pro how to make crepe suzette.
However, watch time is going against Facebook Watch. On YouTube, the sweet spot for watch time and engagement is between five and eight minutes. With Facebook, it’s an average of 10 seconds on a 3:48-minute video.
Do people have the patience for longer Facebook videos?
Currently Facebook video is bite-sized. Think very short quick-hits of cute things like children and animals being silly or adorable. Is this audience going to swipe over and watch videos like they do on YouTube? I’m not entirely convinced.
Facebook content tends to speak to intimate, family-based relationships. Will people self-censor what they like and share? As this function rolls out, will Facebook implement push notifications beyond the Watchlist to tell users that their new favorite show is ready? Are new content creators able to be discovered if the Facebook algorithm bubble continues?
What’s going to stop YouTube creators from cross-posting between the two platforms? Facebook Watch is more likely to split audiences rather than make Watch supersede YouTube. Even with unique content, Facebook will have to contend with YouTube’s deep content library and dedicated audiences.
Is the search function robust enough?
Current problem: People don’t stay on Facebook and video has been hard to discover. Is the search function that Facebook has for video going to be enough? While I’ve seen the video library function, the tags are still very broad and global. If the tags aren’t more unique or if users aren’t able to refine the video tags, then Facebook will have a huge problem with videos hit critical mass. Part of what makes organic search on YouTube feel organic is that people can create long-tail keywords that match search intent.
For the time being, it seems as though Facebook is only letting the title and a few video tags determine what is related content. If the content isn’t searchable … is it really content?
Trends to keep an eye on with Facebook Watch
Here are a few final thoughts and questions that I have after evaluating Facebook Watch.
Is the unique content enough to drive viewers?
Will it continue to be similar to YouTube, or is its original content creation a signal that Facebook wants to be the next Netflix or Hulu? People don’t naturally go to Facebook to learn how to do things. They go for inspiration and connection. Will Facebook content add to this sense of community or detract from the core focus of the platform?
What is the likelihood that people will consume long-form content on Facebook? Rather, will the Facebook audience slow their scrolling for longer content? Right now, they don’t stick around for very long before scrolling on.
Will there truly be organic discover or will the algorithm serve up the same content to the same audiences? How much discovery will be possible?
Only time will tell. Let’s see what happens.