Facebook Watch Built for Ads, Not Broadcasters

Facebook Watch

Facebook Watch

If you believe App Annie, most of the two-plus hours we spend daily on our smartphones involve just three apps. One of the most popular apps around just happens to be Facebook. The social juggernaut is now poised to take on YouTube with a new feature called ‘Watch,’ which is ultimately a redesign of its Video tab.

Unlike some recent soak tests, Watch won’t live as a standalone service. Instead, it’s a tab above the newsfeed within Facebook proper, between Calendar and Marketplace. Available for desktop, mobile and TV apps, Facebook Watch hopes to make video streaming more interactive.

“Watching a show doesn’t have to be passive,” said Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “It can be a chance to share an experience and bring people together who care about the same things. That’s why we’re launching the Watch tab in Facebook – a place where you can discover shows your friends are watching and follow your favorite shows and creators so you don’t miss any episodes.”

But that’s a misnomer. Facebook says Watch shows must be episodic – at least at launch. It’s not meant to compete with or supplant Facebook Live, the company’s live-streaming service that anyone can use. It will also curate content under headers such as “most talked about” and “what’s making people laugh.”

Shows have pages to streamline discoverability alongside profiles. It’s a bit YouTube, a touch of TV and a whole lot of Facebook. The company has a robust ad network, which seems well-suited for these custom video series. Facebook uses ‘pairing’ and ‘retargeting’ to make sure you see the ads best suited for your tastes; while I might see an ad for the flashy new iPhone, someone else might see an ad for cars, or clothing. This can happen during the same commercial break on the same show, too.

The issue is whether or not users will gravitate toward Facebook’s content. It’s buried in the app, which means more clicks to dig down into content. That contrasts with YouTube, which has a single barrier to entry (i.e., one click) before you’re able to watch videos. YouTube also allows for personally curated content.

For those who want to broadcast, Facebook Watch doesn’t seem amenable to that. It has a registration queue for show pages, but notes it’s only available “to a limited group of publishers and creators in the U.S.” Facebook promises to open the platform at some point, but it’s not providing much more detail than that.

So anyone who has created a following on YouTube needn’t panic. It’s not even clear if Facebook has a better method for discovery than curation, or if it will allow dedicated search within Watch.

Facebook can’t recreate YouTube, but it can offer a better advertising model. Click-through rates on YouTube ads are hit-and-miss, and rely on saturation rather than targeting. If Facebook’s ad service makes ads more compelling for users and more lucrative for broadcasters, that’s blood in the water for streamers.

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