When Facebook announced Watch in 2017, the company positioned it as a new source of revenue for publishers. Not only would Facebook pay for some shows, video publishers would be able to earn about 55 percent of the ad revenue on average.
Some in the publishing and advertising industry were skeptical whether Facebook could convert users. People came to the platform to read friend and family updates, not to view video.
“To get people away from the feed is a massive shift,” said Jon Mottel, director of social strategy for Undertone. “They have to change user behavior to get out of that experience, not even considering the fact they have to get users to watch longer form content.”
Facebook argued if companies posted great content, the viewership would follow. Watch would be set apart from its competitors because people could interact with the content, making it easier to create a community.
“The Facebook Watch user experience is very different than a lot of their other content and ad formats that are much quicker to consume,” agreed Kerry Perse, managing director for social for media agency OMD. “The NewsFeed, the stories format, the entire Instagram platform is faster and skews slightly younger than the average Watch user. Facebook Watch require the user being in a different, more leaned-back mindset.”
At an event for media organizations in October, Facebook Watch product managers acknowledged users did not know what Watch was, according to one person that was in attendance. Facebook was considering ways to teach more users about Watch, including NewsFeed posts explaining the service and notifications for people who have watched Watch videos but don’t follow pages. Video publishers pushed back heatedly. They asked why they would invest in creating shows for Watch while their video views were decreasing in other areas of Facebook.
One media executive told CNBC that Watch episodes promoted by Facebook could get millions of views. Without the support, these same series averaged about 265,000 views per episode. The few successful shows are watched by an audience of parents and older, they added.
Even in the early days, when Facebook gave lots of promotion to the service, some advertiser-sponsored content wasn’t able to get the minimum required number of views on Facebook Watch alone, and had to be cross-posted on other platforms like Verizon’s Oath network, a media buyer noted.
Another media executive said no one is finding content on Watch independently, but only seeing content if someone else posts it on their NewsFeed. The audience for its “youngest” successful show on Watch right now is post-college.
A third media executive said often it was better not to sell a show to Watch, and just upload videos to Facebook without any exclusivity or requirements. Typically, the company makes more money being able to upload the same video to YouTube, Amazon and other video platforms than selling the series to Facebook.
Some TV ad buyers are confused by Facebook’s pitch: Facebook is saying Watch is a great place to advertise, but it’s also saying content under 15 seconds is the future, one media buyer said.
However, it’s not all bad news for Facebook. One agency saw a 64 percent increase in Instagram’s user base between September 2016 and September 2018. While brands aren’t clamoring to be on Facebook Watch, they are very interested in Instagram Stories.