Facebook finally announces premium video service Watch, but will anyone tune in?
- After months of lead up, Facebook officially announced Watch, its TV-like premium video service, in a company blog post yesterday. Watch rolls out with content from more than 30 media partners including Time Inc. and Hearst, along with Univision, MLB and the NBA
- Watch will be available in its own tab on the desktop and mobile versions of Facebook, as well as in the social media giant's TV apps. It will include what's being called a Watchlist to help users organize their favorite shows. Viewers will be able to see comments during shows, connect with friends and other viewers or participate in dedicated Facebook Groups for shows to foster engagement.
- Watch is first being introduced to a limited number of U.S. users, with more to be added soon, according to the news post. Shows will also be opened to a limited group of creators, with plans to roll out to all creators in the near future.
Watch is Facebook's most significant push to date to not only challenge online video platforms like YouTube, but also take on linear TV and over-the-top (OTT) streaming services like Netflix with original content from major publishers and media entities. Facebook's two-pronged strategy of attack is found in Watch's reported two-tier content delivery method: one for scripted shows of 20 to 30 minutes in length, and another of unscripted, five to 10-minute offerings. Ad load growth on Facebook is quickly stagnating, and the platform appears to be gunning for TV's ad dollars, in particular, to generate more revenue — an opportunity some, including Business Insider, view Facebook to have largely missed out on this year, as networks continue to command high ad rates and major marketer's attentions despite overall declining ratings.
Facebook is also entering a crowded, quickly fragmenting market with Watch, with mounting competition from OTT services, "skinny bundle" cable packages and also YouTube TV, which recently expanded to 10 more U.S. markets. The value proposition of Watch, as is often the case with Facebook products, is its connectedness. The ability to comment in real-time on Watch smartly integrates a habit users already have called "second screen" viewing — talking with their friends online, on their mobile phones, while they watch TV — into the experience. The formation of Facebook Groups around Watch series might also foster fandoms and online discourse about episodes early on — something publishers that regularly recap shows as they air will likely want to get in on for audience engagement.
Rumblings of what was to become Watch first began to surface with news in March that Facebook was accepting pitches for TV-like content across genres including sports, science, pop culture, lifestyle, gaming and teen-oriented series. Later, in May, more reports started trickling out that Facebook had signed up more millennial-focused publishers, with names like Vox Media, BuzzFeed, ATTN and Group Nine Media attached to the service.