In the line of fire for Facebook: forget YouTube, it’s Amazon and Netflix (but there are problems...)
< Back to In The Frame

In the line of fire for Facebook: forget YouTube, it’s Amazon and Netflix (but there are problems...)

We’re introducing Watch, a new platform for shows on Facebook. Watch will be available on mobile, on desktop and laptop, and in our TV apps.

Shows are made up of episodes — live or recorded — and follow a theme or storyline. To help you keep up with the shows you follow, Watch has a Watchlist so you never miss out on the latest episodes.

That’s an excerpt from a Facebook Newsroom article posted last summer.

Prior to that news release, Mark Zuckerberg had said that he regarded video as ‘a megatrend’.

But Facebook has a problem or three.

Facebook Problem – & Solution – No.1

Firstly, Watch is not (yet) the success the social network’s CEO had hoped it would be, while Facebook Live has also failed to enthral the masses.

The early strategy of Watch – still only available in the US – of focusing on reality TV delivered limited success. Amazon Prime established itself by leading with ‘dramedies’ and taking on Netflix by placing a greater emphasis on the quality, rather than the quantity, of its original content.

Facebook, however, looked to build on the short-form content that many of its users were already widely sharing.

So what’s it doing to change this, given Watch’s stunted growth thus far?

Investing more in original programming.

Facebook’s targets are now more Amazon and Netflix than YouTube.

A billion-dollar plan

Facebook wants shows that make an impact, which is why it’s ordered its first drama series, ten half-hour episodes of the thriller Sacred Lies, and is reportedly ready to invest $1 billion on original content this year, with some series likely to be budgeted at a per-episode spend of between three and four million dollars.

Netflix, in contrast, is expected to spend $7 billion on original content this year (Amazon more than the $4.5 billion that went into premium video entertainment in 2017).

Facebook Problem & Solution No.2

But that’s where Facebook’s second problem comes in:

Long-form linear content is not an obvious fit with social media and is still mainly watched on TV-sized screens. – The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’s report, Journalism, Media, and Technology Trends and Predictions 2018

Facebook, to be successful in buying long-form content, must change habits – never easy to accomplish.

The Reuters report continues:

Sports Rights as Short Cut to Success The quickest way to changing habits will be to acquire exclusive must-see content. That is likely to mean sports. Amazon has acquired rights for Thursday night NFL football this season to help build its Amazon Prime brand. It also outbid Sky for the UK rights to the tennis tour for around £10m a year, its first major acquisition outside the US. Facebook has already tried to buy IPL cricket in India but lost out to Rupert Murdoch’s Star network and is now reportedly showing interest in the mobile rights for NFL, which expire at the end of the season. A looming battle is expected for Premier League streaming rights for the period 2019–22, with Facebook, Amazon, and Google all likely to be in the frame. The auction, which includes UK and international rights, is due to be completed by February this year. All this is likely to mean even more money for sports clubs and perhaps joint bids between tech companies and media businesses to keep the costs affordable.

Facebook Problem & Solution No.3

As Facebook invests heavily in content, it’s having to combat a third problem: because fewer and fewer users’ posts show up in the news feeds of their friends and family, growing numbers of people who want to share content with their loved ones are doing so away from Facebook, often choosing WhatsApp groups or Messenger (both of which are owned by Facebook).

So Fb has very recently made an algorithm change to reduce the amount of content we see from commercial entities in order to increase the amount we see from friends and family:

Because space in News Feed is limited, showing more posts from friends and family and updates that spark conversation means we’ll show less public content, including videos and other posts from publishers or businesses. (Source: ‘News Feed FYI: Bringing People Closer Together’)

This hasn’t impressed everyone: the move is described as “too little too late” by Techradar.

Facebook’s endgame

Facebook’s product management leader, Daniel Danker, said last summer:

You discover videos through your friends. You often find yourself discussing videos with friends. Video has this amazing power to bring people together and build community.

Shows on Watch have comments enabled and some are incorporated into Facebook Groups.

The idea is that original content on Facebook will make TV, like everything else on the platform, a social experience.

We’ll watch and wait.