Facebook has a new home for original video content produced exclusively for it by partners, who will earn 55 percent of ad break revenue while Facebook keeps 45 percent. The “Watch” tab and several dozen original shows will start rolling out to a small group of U.S. users tomorrow on mobile, desktop and Facebook’s TV apps.
By hosting original programming, Facebook could boost ad revenue and give people a reason to frequently return to the News Feed for content they can’t get anywhere else.
Watch features personalized recommendations of live and recorded shows to watch, plus categories like “Most Talked About,” “What’s Making People Laugh” and “Shows Your Friends Are Watching.” Publishers can also share their shows to the News Feed to help people discover them. A Watchlist feature lets you subscribe to updates on new episodes of your favorite shows. Fans can connect with each other and creators through a new feature that links shows to Groups.
Facebook says it plans to roll out access to Watch to more users and more content creators soon, starting with the rest of the U.S. before expanding internationally. Users with access will see a TV-shaped Watch button in the bottom navigation bar of Facebook’s main app that opens the new video hub.
Facebook admits that “we’ve also funded some shows” as examples, but notes that these are only a small percentage of all the available shows. “We want any publisher/creator who is interested to be able to create a show in the future,” a Facebook spokesperson tells me. “So there will be hundreds of shows at launch, and we’ll hopefully scale to thousands.”
Business Insider reported some leaked details about the redesign earlier today, but pegged the launch of original programming as starting August 28th, when the shows actually will begin to roll out August 11th.
What Facebook’s First Shows Look Like
Facebook’s shows will run the gamut from live event coverage to reality TV to scripted programs. “More and more people are coming to Facebook in order to watch video” Facebook’s director of video product Daniel Danker tells me. “When they come with that in mind, we want to make a place for them where they can find that video, connect with the creators and publishers they love, and know they won’t miss out if there’s a new episode from one of those creators.”
Here’s a list of some of the original programming that will be available on Watch:
- Tastemade’s Kitchen Little – This cooking show sees kids watch a how-to recipe video, then instruct a pro chef how to make the dish with comedic results
- Major League Baseball – The MLB will broadcast one game a week live on Facebook
- Major League Baseball “12:25 Live” – A comedic look at baseball with help from the fans
- Mike Rowe – Rowe finds people who’ve done great things for their community and gives them a special experience in return
- Nas Daily – Vlogger Nas (Correction: Not the rapper) makes videos with his biggest friends each day
- Gabby Bernstein – Motivational speaker and author answers fans’ life questions in live and recorded segments
- A&E’s “Bae or Bail:” – Reality TV game show where couples face their fears and see who runs
- All Def Digital’s “Inside the Office” – A look inside the office life at Russel Simmons’ hip-hop media empire
- Billboard’s “How it Went Down” – A documentary series of musicians sharing crazy stories
- David Lopez’s “My Social Media Life” – A reality show about the social media star’s life
- Golden State Warriors’ “Championship Rewind” – A behind-the-scenes look at the Bay Area’s NBA championship 2016-2017 season
- Univision Deportes’ “Liga MX” – Live coverage of LigaMX soccer matches
- National Geographic’s “We’re Wired that Way:” – Mini-documentaries about weird quirks of humanity like songs you can’t get out of your head
- National Geographic’s “Safari Live” – Watch live safaris led by National Geographic’s guides
- NASA’s “Science @ NASA” – Explore science topics in quick four to five-minute episodes
- NBA’s “WNBA All-Access” – A behind the scenes show with women’s basketball stars
- The Dodo’s “Comeback Kids: Animal Edition” features determined animals facing difficult conditions or challenges meet people who refuse to give up on them.
- Tommy Mac – A master woodworker gives live tutorials on how to make furniture
What’s clearly absent is the type of longer-form scripted dramas and comedies people are used to watching on television. Instead, there are plenty of mini-documentaries, reality shows, and sports coverage.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg writes that “We believe it’s possible to rethink a lot of experiences through the lens of building community — including watching video. Watching a show doesn’t have to be passive . . . You’ll be able to chat and connect with people during an episode, and join groups with people who like the same shows afterwards to build community.”
When you open Watch, you’ll be able to scroll through a long list of categories of shows to view. Alternatively, you can either swipe over or arrive from a notification about a new episode to view the Watch list of all the latest shows released by creators you follow. Once you’ve opened an episode you’ll see all the details about it, with one tab for joining a live comment reel with other viewers, and an “Up Next” tab displaying what you’ll view after the current episode if you prefer a glazed-eyes lean-back experience.
There’s no specific content restrictions on swearing or violence beyond Facebook’s existing community standards, but Facebook will monitor for shows that get flagged.
Publishers can choose to insert ad breaks if they want to earn money off their shows, though the guidelines on where and how long they can be are still being finalized. If publishers want to give away their content, they don’t have to show ads. Another option is to do product placed or branded content, in which case the creator has to tag the sponsor paying them for transparency. Shows will have their own dedicated Facebook Pages, and creators can set up special show Groups where fans can ask questions and geek out together.
Beyond the Watch tab, you can also discover shows through the News Feed if a publisher you follow posts an episode or friends are talking about it. That gives Facebook the opportunity to artificially boost the presence of shows in News Feed to build a bigger audience for the new content initiative.
Evolving From Spontaneous To Deliberate Viewing
Facebook first launched its dedicated video tab in April 2016, but it only hosted the more generic News Feed videos people were already seeing from Pages and friends. Now Facebook is in the business of funding original content, initially through direct payments, though it seeks to switch entirely to a revenue-share model in the future to make its original programming effort sustainable.
Facebook’s competitors like YouTube and Snapchat have already experimented with creating original video content. YouTube Red funds several original series, giving bigger production budgets to some of its biggest stars. Snapchat has tried making its own shows in-house, but now focuses on signing deals with partners like TV studios to get fresh, vertical video content into its Discover section.
Facebook’s benefit is that Watch is cross-platform, allowing people to view videos from all their devices, while also being a daily destination for 1.32 billion users. It’s already become a powerhouse in serendipitous video discovery via the News Feed, and Watch will surely provide enough suggestions to get people hooked on shows they weren’t expecting.
But through premium original programming, Facebook is also trying to become a home for deliberate video consumption where people come to view a specific show. While there are already plenty of reasons to visit Facebook, original shows give people a reason to spend longer staring at their screens. If it can drive enough viewers to these shows thanks to its 2 billion total users, Facebook could offer significant revenue-share payouts, attracting better and better content creators.
Facebook’s been trying to eat the whole internet for years now. With Watch and these shows, it’s breaking out of the web to challenge traditional television, which is seeing viewership slide. As ad spends follow eyeballs from TV to the web, Watch could give Facebook a way to net more attention and dollars.