Facebook Watch, the social media giant’s dedicated video tab, made its first appearance to the public Thursday and is continuing to roll out to the platform’s 2 billion users via both mobile and web. So what is Watch, and how excited should you be? We’ll let you be the judge.
Welcome To Facebook Watch
Facebook has done its best to cherry-pick the best features of YouTube, Twitter, and traditional television and bake them into its new Watch video tab. The Chicago Tribune outlined the areas where the latest from Facebook has been built on the shoulders of giants.
Watch, like YouTube, has support to offer professional content creators. Facebook users can follow their favorite creators, receive notifications when new content goes live or save episodes to view later. There’s currently a vetting process to become a Facebook video content creator, but the idea is that the platform will one day (again, like YouTube) offer a space for anyone to create content if they choose.
Like Twitter or Amazon Twitch, Watch powers a community live-watching experience. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, “Watching a show doesn’t have to be passive.... You’ll be able to chat and connect with people during an episode, and join groups with people who like the same shows afterwards to build community.”
Finally, like traditional TV, Watch will air live shows at regular times, from sports (so far, just one MLB game a week, but it’s a start) to original series with ongoing story arcs.
Watch also draws from the company’s own Instagram and Facebook Live products.
The Tribune classified Watch content as “snackable” and social, with a classic Facebook-style feed of recommended shows based on what friends are watching, what’s making people laugh (which gets its own section), and users’ personal favorites.
Why People Are Excited
Facebook Watch is clearly derivative of the services that came before it, but many have high hopes for how it could take the idea beyond what’s previously been done. The Tribune noted that Facebook is starting on a high note with quality programming that is, in many cases, professionally produced.
But it’s not just about what people are watching; it’s about how they’ll be watching it. Again, Zuckerberg wants to transform the watching experience from something passive to something active, social and communal. As on Twitter, viewers will be able to discuss a specific show or video in real time.
“We’ve learned from Facebook Live that people’s comments and reactions to a video are often as much a part of the experience as the video itself,” Facebook said in its announcement of Watch.
Slate predicts that it’s Twitter, not YouTube, that should be quaking in its virtual boots, because Facebook definitely has the clout to bump a smaller rival off the radar – just as it did to Twitter’s Periscope by launching Facebook Live. If you think about it, Facebook has copied and popularized a lot of models that originated on Twitter: followers, hashtags, real-time public chat, live video and now online socialization around TV and video.
The flavor of Watch programming ranges from reality shows to comedy skits, motivational talks, documentaries and live sports, but there‘s definitely a gap in terms of long-form scripted dramas and comedies that viewers generally associate with watching television. Whether that gap remains will depend on the content creators – who will not always be professionals.
“We want any publisher/creator who is interested to be able to create a show in the future,” a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch. “So there will be hundreds of shows at launch, and we’ll hopefully scale to thousands.”
Why People Think Watch Is Dumb
Do people even want more video content? Not according to Forbes’ savage review of the new Facebook service. According to the author, everybody’s just producing more content because producing content is what we do in 2017.
He writes that people aren’t “coming to Facebook in order to watch video,” as Facebook’s director of video product, Daniel Danker, told TechCrunch; rather, “Facebook has been jamming video down our throats.” Sure, video’s great, but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing – and Facebook’s approach is “kind of like shoving a kid in a ball pit then yelling ‘catch,’” said the Forbes author.
He predicts that Watch’s personalized recommendations will work about as well as ad targeting has so far (read: not very well). Both the categories (“Most Talked About,” “What Your Friends Are Watching”) and the shows themselves, he said, so far fail to inspire, featuring B-list celebs and dumb reality concepts (but then, what reality TV concepts aren’t dumb?).
So far, the stock market agrees with Forbes, with Facebook stocks dropping a full 2 percent after the announcement. But InvestorPlace analysts don’t think the dip will last. With so much money spent on TV advertising, and with Facebook looking (no, needing) to leverage large market opportunities, the social media giant may have found itself in the midst of a perfect storm, with nowhere to go but up.