It seems like everyone is getting into the video business. First it was Netflix and Amazon. Then Apple recently announced that it will be producing original content. And now even Facebook is entering the game.
Facebook Watch is a new service that lets Facebook users watch original TV shows created exclusively for the social network. But how does Facebook Watch stack up against the established big hitters on the streaming scene? Read on to find out.
You Can’t Beat Free
As of right now, there’s no cost to watch any of Facebook’s videos. Which puts it at a significant advantage over the likes of Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. But because nothing online is truly free, you’ll pay for the content by being forced to watch ads.
At the end of August, Reuters reported that Facebook was still trying to figure out how to best insert ads into the videos. So there’s a good chance you’ll see a few different formats and placements as the company figures out the finer details.
While there’s currently no subscription option for an ad-free experience, don’t be too surprised if you see a YouTube Red-like option popup in the future. Facebook Watch is all about making money, and that’s another way to empty the pockets of users.
Interestingly, one of the things that Facebook is banking on with Watch is community-created content. Facebook itself is paying for some shows, and will be creating original videos. But a lot of what’s currently on Watch is actually created by other people.
There are shows from Buzzfeed’s The Try Guys, WIRED, The Daily Show, NowThis, GameSpot, Harper’s Bazaar, and more.
Some original shows have already popped up. Ball in the Family, Loosely Exactly Nicole, and Humans of New York are all original reality shows. According to TechCrunch, Facebook will be spending up to a billion dollars in 2018 to fund more shows.
As of right now, there are a lot of short videos and a few shows. And those shows are pretty strange. One sends strangers on blind dates in places like ancient Egypt and the middle ages using VR headsets. Another is full of videos of military veterans coming home. Yet another examines all of the ways the world could end (to be honest, this one sounds pretty cool).
A Strong Focus on Short Videos
The videos on Facebook Watch range from just a few minutes to longer shows that are split over multiple installations. You’ll see many videos that have series and episode numbers in their names:
This is something that Facebook is focusing on: there aren’t any movies on Facebook Watch. Instead, it’s geared toward quickly consumable content that people can watch, comment on, and share in a matter of minutes.
In this way, Facebook isn’t trying to grab quite the same market as Netflix or Amazon. Instead, it’s more like YouTube, at least in its current incarnation. Many people are calling Facebook Watch an attempt at luring some ad dollars away from YouTube, in fact.
But as you’ll see in the Watch tab, there are lots of “shows” — even if the episodes are only a few minutes long. This seems to be something Facebook is emphasizing as well, making it a little different from YouTube, which has no problem hosting billions of one-off videos.
How Does It Compare?
It’s not surprising that Facebook Watch currently doesn’t hold a candle to YouTube. A quick search for “otters” on Facebook Watch brought up three results… and one of them was actually about cats.
How many videos does YouTube bring up for the same search?
Note: After learning more about how Facebook Watch search works, I’ve learned that there are only three episodes that show up for the otter search. But as I mention below, the search results can be a bit confusing. This is a perfect example of that.)
And when it comes to actually finding things you want to watch, Facebook has a long way to go. In the Watch tab, there are three options: Discover (which shows you a bunch of random options), Latest Episodes, and Saved Episodes. There are no categories to help you find things; just a list of who you’re following. So if you’re not following anyone, you have to scroll through a lot of stuff.
You need to use the general Facebook search bar to search for anything, which means there’s an extra step of paring down your results. Just run a search, then click the Videos tab on the search results page.
The search function isn’t great yet, either. I searched for Seeker, a science program, and clicked on “See All Episodes” in the search results — because it was the top result. But because Seeker posts videos as standalones, and not as episodes in a show, they weren’t there. I had to go back and scroll down the results page.
And as far as I can tell, there’s no way to find a show to subscribe to by going to the creator’s page. The Game of Thrones page, for example, doesn’t list the behind-the-scenes show anywhere. You have to find it through Watch.
It’s not too bad, but it’s not nearly as intuitive as some other video platforms, either.
What You Should Watch Now
There’s a lot of weird stuff on Watch right now. But there has to be something good, right? Of course! Obviously this is a matter of opinion, but here are a few shows and accounts I think are worth following:
- NASA ScienceCasts by NASA
- Constantly Curious by TED-Ed
- Focal Point by Seeker
- We’re Wired That Way by National Geographic
- Who Is? by NowThis Politics
- Second Chances by Oregon Zoo
- Game of Thrones: Behind the Scenes by Game of Thrones
Again, these are simply the shows that I’d recommend. If you’ve found other good videos on Facebook Watch, let us know in the comments at the end of the article.
Will Facebook Watch Rival the Other Big Players?
There’s no way to tell, but at the moment, it seems rather unlikely. Unseating YouTube is probably about as easy as unseating Google from its search engine throne. Even if Facebook throws billions of dollars at this project — and Zuck and co. certainly will — YouTube is just too big to fail, being entrenched in everyone’s online habits.
Then again, if Facebook can come up with a good way to differentiate itself from YouTube, maybe it has a chance. As of right now, it doesn’t look like the company has a solid plan for what Watch is going to be. We’re likely to see a lot of experimentation in what they do from here on.
If Facebook can capitalize on original content (like Netflix has with Stranger Things, Amazon has with Transparent, and Hulu has with The Handmaid’s Tale), it certain has a shot at success. But focusing on much shorter content is going to make it difficult to compete with the competition.
Publishers are seeing good engagement with their videos so far; DigiDay has a great breakdown of Mashable’s efforts on Facebook Watch. But an already crowded marketplace full of heavy hitters isn’t going to be easy to break into.
Mark Zuckerberg stated that Facebook wants to change the video-watching experience from a passive one to an active one that includes sharing, commenting, and all of the other things that people do on Facebook. But do people actually want to do that? Or do they just want to sit down and binge-watch It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, despite the health risks?
Only time will tell.
Have you watched anything on Facebook Watch yet? Do you think Facebook Watch could find success despite the strong competition? If so, which service out of YouTube, Netflix, and Amazon Prime does it threaten? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!