2018 Will Be a Pivotal Year for Facebook’s Video Ambitions

Last February, during an earnings call with investors, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg outlined why his company was making significant investments in video: “I see video as a megatrend,” Zuckerberg said. “That’s why I’m going to keep putting video first across our family of apps.”

Heeding his word, Facebook ramped up the investment it was making in video throughout the year. Even more so than it did in 2016, when Facebook first started paying publishers and other video makers to create content, Facebook poured a lot of money into becoming a video destination that could rival existing giants such as YouTube and Netflix. In a wave that was reminiscent of how Verizon started cutting checks for its Go90 streaming service, Facebook bought a lot of original content to populate its new YouTube-esque video-viewing section Watch.

But as Verizon has learned with Go90 and Facebook itself learned with its failed efforts to make Facebook Live happen, just because you build something, it doesn’t mean viewers will come in droves. Plenty of Watch shows have the high view counts that the industry has become accustomed to thanks to Facebook’s three-second view metric, but a significant majority of these views are still happening within the news feed, according to multiple publishing sources. As much as Facebook wants users to go to Watch, users haven’t obliged — which has prompted Facebook to push for even bigger projects with bigger budgets for Watch.

But while Facebook has the money to spend — and reportedly plans to spend a billion dollars through 2018 to make its video dreams a reality — the checkbook alone doesn’t build a video-streaming platform. Zuckerberg might envision Facebook as a video-first company in the future, but how Facebook’s video efforts fare in 2018 will do a lot to decide what type of video company Facebook becomes.

Is Facebook trying to be YouTube? Or Netflix?

When Facebook first started licensing shows for Watch, it was primarily seeking short-form series — something Zuckerberg himself acknowledged during the same February earnings call. Facebook declined to specify how many shows it has funded, but it’s safe to say Facebook has commissioned well over a hundred shows from partners that include Attn, BuzzFeed, Group Nine Media, Mashable and Vox Media. A large majority of these shows broadly fit within the unscripted and lifestyle genres — formats that are cheap to produce and appear all over YouTube.

That approach hasn’t panned out for Facebook, which is now telling video sellers it wants bigger shows with bigger budgets in 2018.

“It was very clear that the goal was to kind of build a YouTube-esque video network off the back of the news feed — and that failed,” said a publishing executive at a Watch partner. “They confessed that they were working with a lot of people who did not know how to produce quality video. So now, it’s ‘we don’t want to build YouTube on the back of Facebook, we want to build Netflix on the back of Facebook’ — that’s a far more difficult proposition to be successful at, and it’s a hell of a lot more costly.”

More so than getting users to regularly go to the Watch section on their computers or smartphones, Facebook’s success in this area hinges on convincing people to fire up the Facebook app for connected TV devices. People still want to watch TV shows on TV-sized screens, and that is something they simply do not expect from Facebook right now.

read more here: digiday.com