Facebook Watch is a dud so far

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Image for post
Screen capture from a Facebook Watch show

There are two stories related to Facebook video that I think point to the struggles it’s having in making headway in the medium.

The first, as reported by Adage, is that Facebook users just don’t seem to be tuning in to its new Watch tab. Instead most video views in Facebook are still happening in the Newsfeed. “So what?” you might say. “A video is a video view, no matter where it happens.” But the reason that Facebook launched the Watch tab is that it wanted to create the habit of “appointment” viewing, where you sit down to watch programming the same way you’ll watch Netflix or cable TV. Most video views in the Newsfeed are fleeting and don’t lead to binge-watching multiple episodes at once.

I think one lesson here is that it’s hard to get users to click on a tab. Most will stick to the default Newsfeed unless a Watch show gets so much good word-of-mouth that it’s worth it to them to navigate to that part of the app. But it’s worth considering that this likely mirrors your own TV-watching habits. Think of your on-demand viewing, whether it’s on Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu. Most shows you watch you likely heard about through word-of-mouth or by reading about them. You’re probably not doing much scrolling through menus and watching stuff you come across at random (although this certainly does happen sometimes). In order for Facebook Watch to become a destination, it needs to produce at least one Stranger Things, Handmaid’s Tale, or Transparent, and that’ll likely be enough to get users to explore the Watch tab further to see what else there is.

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There is a social platform, however, that’s done well at not only encouraging binge-watching, but also getting users to spend more time watching videos, and that’s YouTube. Which brings me to the second story I want to highlight. Digiday reports that The Economist is shifting much of its focus and resources from Facebook video to YouTube. It’s joining a raft of other publications that have signaled in recent months that they’re doing the same (for instance here’s a Digiday article about The Atlantic published earlier this year that has almost the exact same headline).

As I joked on Twitter:

Publishers in 2016: “Screw YouTube. Facebook video is where all the action’s at. We’re going to invest all our money there.”

Publishers in 2017: ::come crawling back to YouTube with their tails between their legs::

Publishers were wowed by huge Facebook view counts and promises of monetization on the horizon, but they soon learned that those view counts were essentially empty calories, in part because they were counted after only three seconds of silent play. Those view counts didn’t lead to increased reader loyalty and Facebook’s ad sharing thus far has been disappointing.

Hence why publishers are flocking to YouTube, where it’s harder to juice your numbers but still possible to build a loyal audience that actually seeks out and binge-watches your video content.

I think these two stories point to the very real struggles Facebook and other platforms are having with “pivoting” to video. In a piece I published the other week, I argued that Netflix is really the only large company to successfully marry tech and video content, and Facebook’s missteps only reinforce this notion.

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Simon Owens is a tech and media journalist living in Washington, DC. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Email him at simonowens@gmail.com. For a full bio, go here.

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Tech and media journalist. Email me: simonowens@gmail.com

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