Facebook has launched Watch, a platform that will turn the social network into a media platform where you can watch and discuss TV shows with friends and strangers. The launch of a new tab on your feed, might not sound like much, but don’t be fooled: Facebook is about to go big on TV.
Watch will be available on Facebook’s mobile, desktop and TV apps, to a “limited group” of people in the US, before it’s released more widely. Although there’s no worldwide launch date yet, the social network routinely trials new products in the US before going global. The success of Watch from country to country will all come down to how Facebook is able navigate local systems – and that will take time.
Facebook needs to stop relying on us to police its content. It’s time its AI took responsibility
For now, Facebook will be testing different viewing options such as Watchlist, where you can bank your favourite shows, and advert breaks. Publishers can create sponsored content, and everything will be personalised according to a user’s likes and reactions. This is a game-changing venture for Facebook, a company that has been pouring resources into video for years in a bid to out-gun Google-owned YouTube.
When it moved to autoplay videos in the news feed, Facebook classed one view as three-seconds long to guarantee more advertising revenue. Earlier this year, it began trialling sound-on autoplay ads to increase engagement. But it’s been clear from the off that gaining significant revenue from videos in the news feed, where users tend to scroll and move on rapidly would be a challenge. As a result, it has experimented with a separate video tab in the US, to push more users towards the content in a more deliberate fashion.
Watch is the result of all these experiments; a concerted effort to drive users to do more than browse. Facebook wants you to settle down to Watch and catch up on regular shows, debating them with friends and others. All on Facebook, of course. Twitter has largely dominated in this area to date, achieving enormous success with users debating live events on the social network, capitalising on this by forming partnerships with Bloomberg, Buzzfeed, WNBA and more. Its TV app is already available on Roku, Apple TV, Fire TV and Xbox One.
Facebook meanwhile has deals to livestream major sporting events in the US, including Major League Soccer, MLB (one game a week) and World Surf League events. In the UK, rights to the stream Premier League games are now up for grabs, with Sky reportedly set to secure a winning bid of £180 million a season. But it’s feasible Facebook could take a slice of this profitable viewing time once Watch is up and running.
The launch of Watch could present Facebook with one significant problem, however. The social network has, until now, resisted calls to regulate its content, claiming it is not a publisher. As an “aggregator”, Facebook Live has shown the murder of an 11-month-old girl in Thailand, the murder of a 74-year-old man in Cleveland and the sexual assault of a teenage girl in Chicago. Many of these videos remained live on the platform for hours, until enough complaints were made that Facebook was forced to remove them. Its reporting procedures have repeatedly been shown to be flawed, with a Guardian investigation revealing the vast inconsistencies among its rules for moderating violence, pornography, hate speech and terrorist content. As a result, the European Commission is in the process of drawing up potential new laws that will force the social network to take action.
Watch will work against Facebook when it comes to argue that it is not a publisher and not responsible for the content. Increasingly, the social network has been paying for content to boost its video figures, signing contracts with around 140 companies and celebrities in 2016 to use Live. The New York Times, CNN, Vox Media, Gordon Ramsey, Kevin Hart and more were paid more than $50m in total for their contributions. Non-publishers, such as FC Barcelona, also featured in this grab for views.
The same is happening with Watch. “We are also funding some shows to help seed the ecosystem, gather feedback, and inspire others,” said Nick Grudin, VP of media partnerships. Director of product Daniel Danker added these funded shows would be “community-oriented and episodic”, with the first hosted by Discovery Channel regular Mike Rowe. In this grab for more revenue, as ad space on the news feed runs out, Facebook could potentially be opening itself up to a new set of political challenges.