Facebook’s big push into more professional video “shows” has finally arrived. Will it work?
Today, the social network announced “Watch,” the long-awaited update to its video section where people can go watch short, episodic video shows. You’ll also be able to watch some live video here, including live sports that Facebook has the rights to stream, like Major League Baseball games.
Facebook already had a video tab. But now that tab has been redesigned, and will include short episodic “shows” that Facebook didn’t have before. Facebook is paying publishers* like BuzzFeed, ATTN and Group Nine Media to make these shows, and will retain the rights to some of them. The majority of the shows, though, will be posted on Facebook free of charge. Some publishers plan to run mid-roll video ads, a.k.a. commercials, during the shows to make money.
The redesign and focus on episodic shows has been a long time coming. But it also comes with a number of unanswered questions — some of which won’t have answers for a long time.
- Does anyone actually want to watch “shows” on Facebook? CEO Mark Zuckerberg has made clear his desire to create a place where people “watch episodically week over week.” But most videos on Facebook seem to work because they appear organically in peoples’ News Feeds, and people watch them — or scroll past them — just because they’re there. Does anyone actually want to head over to Facebook to kick back and watch things on a regular basis? For long periods at a time? And sit through ads? We’ll see.
- Will Facebook’s open “platform” approach ruin the experience? Facebook says that eventually this tab will be an “open platform” where anyone with a video camera and an idea can create a show, much like YouTube or Vimeo. (That’s a lot cheaper than trying to actually compete with Netflix or Hulu!) But the premise behind “shows” originally felt high-quality — Facebook would pay or partner with professional video creators to make stuff exclusively for Facebook. Opening the tab up to anyone could flood the system with mediocre stuff that nobody actually wants to see. Will that dilute the effort? Or might some of those actually become the platform’s breakout successes?
- Will Facebook compensate media publishers enough that they keep making shows? Facebook has not yet proven that it can be a place where video creators can make big-time money, even though a lot of publishers are counting on Facebook video to drive revenue growth over the next couple of years. Its mid-roll video ads are very new, and Zuckerberg doesn’t like pre-roll ads, which people have to wait through (or skip) before they can watch a video. If the business part doesn’t work, will publishers stick around and keep making shows? Facebook already experienced this issue with another one of its media products: Instant Articles, a format that publishers flocked to but have become less excited about, in part because it’s harder to make as much money there as on a normal web article page.
- Will Facebook offer better search and discovery? YouTube has succeeded with an everyone-does-video approach, but it also has a much better search feature than Facebook does. If Facebook wants to eventually host thousands of shows, will people be able to find them? (Will Google index them?) Will Facebook make publishers pay for better placement in the new tab? Or can the News Feed actually serve as the killer “inbox” for Facebook shows you subscribe to?
It’s also interesting to see that while Facebook has spent the past year trying desperately to copy Snapchat, its video tab strategy is very different.
In Snapchat’s case, the company is very exclusive with what it allows inside its Discover section — the part that’s not messages or Stories from your friends. As a result, it only has about one short video show per day, but it ensures that those shows are relatively professional quality. They’re filmed exclusively for a mobile phone, and exclusively for Snap’s audience.
Facebook is taking a different approach, one that should lead to a lot more videos, but possibly a bunch of amateurish ones. It’s much more like YouTube than anything else. But there’s already a YouTube.
For now, the new video section is only available to a small test group of users, but Facebook plans to roll it out to all U.S. users in the next few weeks or months. Facebook plans to have a few hundred shows when it rolls out to all U.S. users, and will eventually get to thousands of shows, according to Facebook’s VP of News and Video Fidji Simo.
* Vox Media, which owns this site, is also working with Facebook, according to Reuters.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.