Facebook Launches Social Network Assault on TV with Watch

NEWS ANALYSIS: The world's largest social network, which has been envious of YouTube, Netflix, Vimeo and other video providers for years, has set the table for its own online television network.


Facebook not only has its users' complete attention for news, social networking, games, instant messaging, email, video streaming and a dozen other use cases, it now wants their time in front of ads as a television network.

The world's largest social network, which has been envious of YouTube, Netflix, Vimeo and other video providers for years, has set the table for its own online television network.

Earlier this year, Facebook reportedly--although it never confirmed this publicly--entered the market for discovering and buying content. According to The Hollywood Reporter and covered here in eWEEK, Facebook decided to pick up a canceled MTV show called "Loosely Exactly Nicole," from Nicole Byer, creator of the popular "Girl Code" show. "Nicole" was canceled after one low-rated season (about 360,000 total viewers, dwindling to less than 150,000) on MTV.

Saw Potential in Former MTV Show

Nonetheless, Facebook saw potential in "Nicole," and it was among the first news items about a network-show acquisition that leaked out. There's more: Facebook apparently is looking at about six genres as focus areas for half-hour shows: sports, science, pop culture, lifestyle, gaming and teens; these will likely stream as weekly series.

Now that type of content, when it becomes available, will have a place to nest and grow. On Aug. 10, Facebook launched a new section of the network called Watch, as a specific home for video.

Watch will be available on mobile, on desktop and laptop, and in Facebook TV apps. It is basically a redesign of Facebook's first video tab, reconfigured in order to keep viewers watching for longer period of time and hopefully to return regularly to view shows. The concept is that when users open Facebook Watch, the most recent episodes of their favorite shows will be there waiting for them, so they can finish them or binge many shows when they feel like it.

Most Facebook users now see videos secondarily when they scroll past a friend's post. YouTube, on the other hand, is a destination specifically for watching videos. Facebook obviously is seeing its own virtual television network it as a whole new advertising income stream.

Rolling Out Watch to Limited Number of Users at First

The company said it was rolling out Watch to a limited group of users in the United States before a wider release in the future. No general release date is known at this time.

Here's how Facebook itself described the limited launch Aug. 10:

"Gear up for "Watch!" It is a new platform for all creators, publishers and social media influencers to find an audience, build a community of passionate fans, and earn money for their work on Facebook. We believe our Facebook shows will be successful, particularly because:

"(1) Our shows engage fans and the sports community. For example NOW NBA Publicity Studio publishes a daily show where we make and share videos together with our fans from around the world. The "NOW" stands for "Nationally Or Worldwide." The Watchlist makes it easy for our fans to catch every day's episode.

"(2) We have live shows that connect directly with our fans. We use a combination of recorded and live episodes to connect with our fans and answer questions in real time.

"(3) We also have shows that follow a narrative arc and those that have a consistent theme.

"(4) Finally, we have live events and rallies that bring communities together while connecting with friends and fellow fans on the Facebook platform."

More Specifics on Types of Content

More detail from Facebook's Director of Products Daniel Danker, who covered this in an Aug. 10 blogpost:

  • Shows will engage fans and community: Nas Daily publishes a daily show where he makes videos together with his fans from around the world. The Watchlist makes it easy for fans to catch every day’s new episode.
  • Live shows will connect directly with fans: Gabby Bernstein, a New York Times bestselling author, motivational speaker and life coach, uses a combination of recorded and live episodes to connect with her fans and answer questions in real time.
  • Shows will follow a narrative arc or have a consistent theme: Tastemade’s Kitchen Little is a funny show about kids who watch a how-to video of a recipe, then instruct professional chefs on how to make it. Each episode features a new child, a new chef, and a new recipe. Unsurprisingly, the food doesn’t always turn out as expected.
  • Live events will bring communities together: Major League Baseball is broadcasting a game a week on Facebook, enabling people to watch live baseball while connecting with friends and fellow fans on the platform.

Facebook, with its 2 billion-plus international membership, undoubtedly is looking at that huge number of people to drive its online video viewership--and then talk about shows during or afterward, still on the network. The tools are all right there, they're familiar, and they generally work well.

That will make the Facebook experience stand out from YouTube and Netflix, even though those, too, are social networks to an extent.

With Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube and other over the top (OTT) internet video and television services already maneuvering to get into mainstream cable networks--Comcast and AT&T come immediately to mind--it may only be a matter of time before other major IT product and service companies such as Apple, Microsoft, LinkedIn and others come up with their own networks filled with their own original content.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...