Facebook Watch is finally growing as payouts get spread thin

Both Facebook Watch and Instagram’s IGTV have yet to become superstar video platforms, leaving Facebook at risk as more people seek streaming entertainment instead of status updates. So today Facebook is trying to build some buzz for Watch with new stats and rollouts. The free video hub that combines original content, sports, and cult favorite […]

Both Facebook Watch and Instagram’s IGTV have yet to become superstar video platforms, leaving Facebook at risk as more people seek streaming entertainment instead of status updates. So today Facebook is trying to build some buzz for Watch with new stats and rollouts. The free video hub that combines original content, sports, and cult favorite TV shows like Firefly now has 400 million users watching at least one minute per month. That’s not a ton of engagement amongst a wide audience. But on the brighter side there are 75 million users watching at least one minute per day with a much more promising average of 20 minutes per day.

Though that’s just 5 percent of Facebook’s 1.5 billion daily users, it indicates that if Facebook can get people hooked on its ad-supported shows, it could squeeze serious viewing time out of them. Just four months ago, Facebook was saying that only 50 million people spent at least 1 minute per month on Watch, so it’s making strong progress.

Watch is now available worldwide on desktop and Facebook Lite as well as the main Facebook app. And it’s rolling out ad breaks to 40 countries after an initial launch in 5 in August. It’s also renewing four shows for a second season: Huda BossFive PointsSacred Lies & Sorry For Your Loss.

But The Information reports that news media executives feel that while some shows are getting satisfactory viewership, ad revenue has been underwhelming. Six months ago, Facebook commissioned news programs from outlets like CNN and Buzzfeed. Facebook reportedly now plans to pay news video content producers less per show as it seeks to spread the same $90 million budget across more programs, potentially with a greater focus on international markets. That cut-back could make producing some shows tough, but at least the execs believe Facebook understands it must prioritize monetization for its content partners.

To the end, Facebook plans to offer more options for advertisers like more targeting capabilities, and expanding its In-Stream Reserve premium ad inventory inside the top quality Watch shows. For individual video creators, Ad Breaks will become more widely available including within game streams from eSports stars. Facebook is also planning to expand its Brand Collabs Manager to additional countries so creators can get hooked up with sponsorship deals, and let more creators sign up fans for Patreon-style subscription payments.

The viewing stats have likely been bolstered by the addition of all episodes of Joss Whedon’s old TV shows Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly that users can binge watch for hours on end. 12 million Watch Party group video sessions have been launched to date, helping shows go viral. Facebook is now testing live picture-in-picture commentating that could let actors host viewing parties that feel like you’re sitting in the living room beside them. Facebook’s VP of video Fidji Simo writes that “With Facebook Watch, we set out to demonstrate what it looks like to build deep bonds through watching online video, instead of just having a passive viewing experience.”

Simo also notes that “People can find videos on Facebook in a number of different places — Watch, News Feed, Search, Pages and more — and all of these can feel different. We want to make the experience of watching video feel immersive no matter where you discovered it. As part of this effort, we’ll be testing a few things in the coming months, like creating a darker background whenever you immerse yourself into a video on mobile.”

Facebook has yet to concentrate its funding on a blockbuster tentpole video series — its Game Of Thrones or House Of Cards. The closest thing it has is the Elizabeth Olsen show Sorry For Your Loss, though viewership has been somewhat weak. Next year Facebook Watch will debut a revived and social media-infused web version of MTV’s Real World. But tapping its deep pockets to pay for one must-see original scripted series could help wedge Watch into people’s lives.

Facebook launches Watch Party for all, tests Live PiP commentating

Facebook Watch has failed to capture viewers with its content, so it’s hoping to differentiate through the company’s core strength: social. Today Facebook fully launches Watch Party, its co-viewing feature where users can see and comment on the same video at the same time, to all profiles and Pages around the world. Watch Party had […]

Facebook Watch has failed to capture viewers with its content, so it’s hoping to differentiate through the company’s core strength: social. Today Facebook fully launches Watch Party, its co-viewing feature where users can see and comment on the same video at the same time, to all profiles and Pages around the world.

Watch Party had previously launched in Groups and been in testing with other types of accounts. But now any profile or business can post a Watch party invite to sync up with other users and simultaneously view videos they’ve discovered on Facebook.

Watch’s content lineup is still lackluster compared to YouTube, Netflix, or even Snapchat Discover. CNBC reports Facebook is giving up on younger teens that are already ditching its app, and pivoting the video hub towards an older audience. Facebook is hoping a shared experience with users commenting together on clips could make Watch more appealing, but it’s a genuinely new behavior that may prove difficult to instill.

Facebook is also testing a few other tricks to breathe life into Watch. Pages and Groups will be able to schedule a Watch Party to draw more viewers, maybe by setting up a nightly gathering. Watch Parties with lots of activity will have their comments threaded so it’s easier to follow discussions.

And most interestingly, Facebook will try allowing Watch Party hosts to go Live picture-in-picture so they can commentate in real-time. This could be a hit with celebrities, as it will make users feel like they’re sitting beside them watching TV together. Basketball star Shaq will test out the Live Commentating feature through his Page tomorrow.

Watch Party’s statistics sound impressive, with 12 million started from Groups so far, 7X more daily Watch Parties in Groups per day since its launch in July, and 8X more commenting than on non-Live/synced videos. Pages are using it to let fans binge watch playlists of their old videos, replay their TV content for users in different time zones, and let fans ask each other and the hosts questions about recipes as they cook.

But given Facebook’s 2.2 billion total monthly users, billion-plus Groups users, and the fact that measuring growth in multiples is easy when you start with a low number, the feature clearly hasn’t reached the zeitgeist yet.

Perhaps the best hope for Watch and Watch Party is a feature TechCrunch broke the news on last week. Facebook is now internally testing a Watch Party-like co-viewing feature inside Messenger. Baking the option into chat might be a lot more natural, especially in group texts. 

Facebook has been desperately trying to shift video consumption behavior from passive zombie viewing to interactive and social engagement with fellow viewers. But that only works if the content is compelling.

Beyond a reboot of MTV’s The Real World, nothing on Watch truly stands out. Facebook may need to open up its wallet and pay big for more tent pole shows to pull in users and hope they get lost commenting on clips with friends and like-minds.