It’s Social TV Time

Will Facebook’s Watch Challenge YouTube?


Facebook_logo_lLast week, Facebook made its video platform Watch available to its US users after unveiling the initiative earlier this month. The service is an attempt by Facebook to take on rival Alphabet’s YouTube and traditional content broadcasters to enter the massive market for video advertising revenue. Watch builds on the success of the video tab launched in the US in 2016, which offered a predictable place to find videos on Facebook.

The new platform will be available through Facebook’s mobile app, smart TV app and Web browsers. This strategic move comes as advertisers have been shifting advertising budgets from TV to online formats, as more users access video content from multiple devices such as smartphones and tablets.

Watch offers a wide range of videos of varying lengths, including scripted series, live shows that feature hosts responding in real time to questions from viewers, Major League Baseball as well as other sporting events. The service includes content from digital players like BuzzFeed and more traditional media owners like A&E. Some of the marquee shows include Returning the Favor by former Dirty Jobs host Mike Rowe, a behind-the-scenes show about Real Madrid narrated by Orlando Bloom, and a series by Humans of New York. Facebook is investing in some big names.

Facebook said Watch is more personal and community-oriented than rivals’ offerings, with the potential for a truly social TV experience. For example, the social network can suggest shows based on a user’s interests and friends can share their thoughts as they watch a video or participate in groups dedicated to a show. Facebook sees high-quality, scripted video as important for retaining users, particularly younger ones who have been flocking away from more traditional broadcasting. The new service should allow the social media giant to learn about users’ preferences, giving it confidence to invest in content areas that will prove the most appealing.

Watch is Facebook’s first major push into the market of professional video along the lines of Amazon and Netflix. Other companies including Apple also have been scrambling to strike deals with Hollywood studios to offer high-definition content, thus fuelling the next gold rush in ad dollars. We expect billions to be spent over the next few years as the online giants move keenly into this space. Facebook’s announcement will heap pressure on the likes of Apple to step up their own efforts.

But it’s still early days for the platform and it will take a while before Facebook is seen as a credible channel for content and media owners. Most new content on the platform is likely to be offered for free to users on an ad-funded basis. This is a great way of building an audience, but the company may struggle to generate revenue from this and any future content beyond advertising.

Television is changing at an accelerating pace and the concept of broadcasting is being redefined. Non-linear media is replacing linear TV and Facebook is certainly one of the companies best positioned to ride this disruption wave.