Facebook is hungry for video and taking lots of pages from YouTube’s playbook when it comes to wooing over creators.
Earlier this fall, Facebook unleashed Watch globally, opening up the company’s big bet on premium, long-form video to the world after testing it in the US for a little over a year.
As part of the rollout, Facebook started allowing anyone — from users to publishers — to set up and fund their own Watch shows through a self-serve tool called Creator Studio that is built into Facebook.
With Watch’s floodgates open and the ability for publishers to bypass Watch’s funded team, Facebook is actively encouraging publishers to set up and fund their own Watch programming in exchange for making money from ad breaks, according to sources.
Before a few months ago, all shows had to be green-lit by Facebook’s own team, requiring creators to pitch the social platform their ideas. Facebook’s content strategy continues to shift, and the Watch team is experimenting with different formats and production quality, which can make it difficult for creators to know what specific content Facebook is interested in funding.
But with Creator Studio, they don’t have to go through Facebook’s funding process.
Creator Studio helps publishers manage video content and track its performance. The tool also details how many repeat viewers a show has and breaks down the number of one-minute views that are eligible for ad revenue through mid-roll and pre-roll videos. To run ad breaks, Watch Pages must have 10,000 followers and at least 30,000 one-minute views on videos that are three minutes or longer over 60 days.
The self-serve tool is squarely aimed at YouTube’s crop of creators, and has changed the message that Facebook is sending some publishers about Watch, at least when it comes to entertainment-geared shows that are separate from news shows.
Instead of pitching exclusive, high-quality shows, some publishers have changed their strategy and are cranking out a ton of videos that meet Facebook’s qualifications for ad breaks, according to several sources.
“I think that’s only going to continue and grow — it’s almost low-hanging fruit,” said one executive about Watch’s ambitions to attract influencers and creators from YouTube.
Publishers are chasing Watch ad revenue
Facebook has started wrangling up publishers at events to talk about Watch, too.
Last month, Facebook gathered publishers in New York at a partner event to talk about video with execs like Luis Olivalves, who recently changed roles from heading up media partnerships for Latin America to a similar role in North America as part of Sibyl Goldman’s team.
The event gave attendees a crash course in Creator Studio, according to one source.
A Facebook spokesperson said that the company routinely hosts events for publishers of all different sizes. The New York event included entertainment, sports, and news publishers.
Until recently, the opportunity with Watch was slim for publishers that didn’t have deep pockets or big concepts that could get directly funded by Facebook. Now, some are trying to rack up as many shows as possible with the goal of making money from advertising.
“It’s totally open — you can just launch a new Watch Page yourself,” another publishing source said. “It’s like ‘launch as many shows as possible’ and if you’re successful, you’re going to get ad break revenue.”
Watch is looking more like YouTube but still has a ways to go
There’s a lot of professionally created shows in Watch from companies like BuzzFeed and MTV. There’s also a lot of less polished videos that are posted to the news feed and end up getting pulled into the video tab.
Indeed, Watch looks more similar to YouTube than to Netflix or Hulu.
Both Facebook and its partners are quick to point to Watch as a long-term bet for the company that won’t happen overnight.
But Watch is also increasingly becoming viewed as more than an experiment by Facebook’s top execs: Watch was mentioned 12 times during Facebook’s third-quarter earnings last week, up from 6 mentions in first-quarter earnings, according to transcripts of the calls.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg also publicly acknowledged Google-owned YouTube as a competitor to Watch during the call.
“We’re seeing video grow dramatically across the ecosystem,” Zuckerberg said. “And while Watch is now growing very quickly, we’re well behind YouTube and still working to make this a unique people-centric experience.”
YouTube influencers are scrambling to get on Watch
Made in Network is one of a handful of so-called “multi-channel networks” (MCNs) that works with creators to set up and manage web video talent, primarily on YouTube.
Over the past few months, the company’s roster of creators have started building out Watch shows, some of which make nearly as much money from ad revenue as its YouTube shows.
“In the past couple of months, as they’ve introduced ad breaks and tools, we’ve seen a lot more meaningful revenue generation for our clients,” said Keith Johnson, chief operating officer at Made in Network.
Johnson declined to name specific creators but said that one YouTube channel has doubled its revenue by adding a Watch show. Revenue from the Watch show is 10% smaller than YouTube after running for a few months.
The company’s influencers have experimented with both original Watch shows and repurposing YouTube content for Facebook, with the latter option working the best so far.
“We actually end up seeing pretty distinct audiences, so it doesn’t feel like we’re splitting people between the two,” Johnson said. “Even though it’s the same content, we have a new pipeline to get to them through Facebook.”
Facebook is changing the shows it funds, too
Facebook continues to green-light programs for Watch but the funding have increasingly shifted to fewer big, celebrity-driven programs that appeal to broad audiences.
Some of the high-profile shows range from interactive talk show formats like Jada Pinkett Smith’s “Red Table Talk” (which has 3.8 million followers) to dramas like “Sorry for Your Loss” (which has 107,000 followers).
Facebook is also funding shows with various formats, like a scripted program called “Skam: Austin” that has run for two seasons on Watch.
One source suggested that Facebook is considering outsourcing parts of the development process of its funded Watch shows to firms.
A Facebook spokeswoman said that the company is experimenting with different funding models for partners, which include digital publishers, creators, and traditional media companies.
Granular data is still a challenge with Watch
While Facebook’s video ad revenue is starting to kick in for creators, data and measurement is still a challenge.
“They make it really hard to dig into the data and attribute it to different things and to figure out what’s actually driving it,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot that’s murky and behind a veil.”
Several sources said that it’s unclear how views break down between the news feed and Watch tab. One source estimated that most views are still coming from news feeds where videos are exposed to huge audiences.
“It’s really hard to know the split between Watch and feed because they don’t tell you — you don’t have any data or insights,” the source said. “They will never tell you if a Facebook video view comes from the Watch tab or the feed — I’m still pretty sure that a lot of the views come from the feed.”
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