Back in 2014, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook would be 'mostly video' in five years, and since then we've been trying to work out what that means, exactly. What a Facebook that's 'mostly video' will actually look like.
I mean, sure, there's a heap of video content on Facebook now - by last report, Facebook's serving more than 8 billion daily video views per day, with the moving images awakening as you scroll by in your feed. But while video is growing, text is still a huge part of the Facebook experience. Posts and interactions are still mostly text-based.
So how will Facebook transition towards an even more video-oriented site?
Now we have a view on the next stage of Facebook's video focus - after months of speculation about The Social Network commissioning original programming and making deals for exclusive broadcasts, Facebook will this week roll out their new Watch section, starting with a small group of US users.
As you can see, Watch is a dedicated segment for Facebook content - this is the desktop version above, but on mobile, Watch will take over the video tab at the bottom of the app (or be introduced to the app for those who don't have it).
Facebook says that Watch is 'a new platform for shows on Facebook' made up of both live and recorded episodes which 'follow a theme or storyline'.
"Watch is personalized to help you discover new shows, organized around what your friends and communities are watching. For example, you'll find sections like "Most Talked About," which highlights shows that spark conversation, "What's Making People Laugh," which includes shows where many people have used the "Haha" reaction, and "What Friends Are Watching," which helps you connect with friends about shows they too are following."
Dependent on the quality of content offered, the focus on original shows could help drive more people to Facebook, and develop the platform as the key video destination. Imagine, for example, if Facebook were to have the rights to Game of Thrones, which had more than 10 million US viewers for its last episode.
That's an extreme example, of course, but the principle remains - Facebook will be looking to air high-quality, exclusive content, and will utilize its knowledge graph to target content to just the right audiences. And once people are viewing, they can recommend more programming, new programming, live-streams - the whole video eco-system can be built on the back of a significant habitual shift.
But a lot rides on the quality of the content - so what's on offer in the first iteration?
- Nas Daily is a daily show where the rapper makes videos with his fans from around the world.
- Gabby Bernstein, a New York Times bestselling author, motivational speaker, and life coach, will use a combination of recorded and live episodes to connect with her fans and answer questions in real time.
- 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.
- 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.
Okay, none of those sound game-changing, necessarily, but there are reports of other content in development - like a reality program about LA Lakers star Lonzo Ball and his family - which add to the slate of interest, and Facebook will be looking to expand further as the platform develops (Facebook says there will be hundreds of shows at launch, which they hope to scale to thousands).
In terms of viewing habits, the data already shows that people are willing to tune into TV-like content online - YouTube, for example, has reported that the watch time of TV channels on their platform has increased 50% in the last year (inadvertently setting a precedent for Facebook to mount a challenge).
But even as online video grows, TV remains the leader - as shown in this graph from the latest Mary Meeker Internet Trends report, TV still dominates time spent, despite, most notably, mobile's rise.
The data shows that to truly dominate, and take a significant share of the $70 billion TV ad market, Facebook would still need to provide news ways to watch Facebook video content on home TV sets - they have taken steps towards this with the evolution of their TV app, and there are rumors they could be developing a smart home device, which may, theoretically, be capable of porting Facebook content to your TV.
If their episodic content resonates, it wouldn't be surprising to see Facebook offer a solution on this front. And then, for YouTube to follow-suit (if they don't advance there first).
But even without significant TV adaptation, the opportunities are significant.
From a creator perspective, Facebook's offering publishers 55% of ad break revenue from the new programming, with Facebook keeping the remaining 45%. That's the same as what YouTube already offers, Facebook's merely duplicating their model, though they'll be hoping their expanded audience reach and advanced targeting will prove more lucrative.
Definitely, Facebook is making creators a key focus - as noted in the Watch introduction notes:
"Watch is a platform for all creators and publishers to find an audience, build a community of passionate fans, and earn money for their work."
Again, if Facebook can get their programming right, that will open up broad reaching opportunities for people to tap into video content. For one, advertisers be able to target their ads more specifically, and more specific targeting means cheaper TV ads, expanding the pool of potential businesses. And from a publisher standpoint, more niche audience focus, and more viewer data, will better enable Facebook to show relevant live-streams and regular creator content to more interested viewers. If you had a great live-stream, for example, which you ran regularly, Facebook could add that to their Watch listings and show it to people who watch similar content, expanding your audience.
There's no doubt Watch has a heap of potential, and it'll be interesting to see just how fast it evolves, how quickly Facebook rolls it out to new regions. And how long it takes for YouTube to up their challenge.
YouTube already made a big announcement on their own original programming back in May. As noted, I suspect an advanced TV-connection app may be the next significant shift.