Facebook will spend between $1 billion and $2 billion on original content in the next year, say analysts, with the goal of transforming Watch, its interactive video channel into a “TV-like habit” that brings in advertising dollars. Tarnished by the fake news it disseminated, Facebook has funded ABC News, CNN, Fox News channel and Univision to create news programs that will go live this summer. The shows will feature personalities such as Fox News’ Shepard Smith and CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
Variety reports that, “other Facebook Watch programs revolve around celebrities,” including Jada Pinkett Smith and family’s “Red Table Talk,” Tia Mowry’s “Quick Fix” and influencer Huda Kattan’s reality show around her cosmetics line. Scripted content includes “Five Points,” a teen violence drama from executive producer Kerry Washington, which debuted June 4.
Over time, “sports will likely represent the bulk of Facebook’s content spending,” including exclusive rights to 25 MLB day games in the U.S. and “live events from extreme-sports producer Nitro Circus.”
“There’s an all-out assault for Facebook to acquire content, especially as their user growth has slowed,” said GBH Insights head of technology research Daniel Ives, who believes Facebook will spend between $1.5 billion and $2 billion this year. “They are not spending $8 billion on content like a Netflix. But it would be a strategic mistake that would haunt them if they don’t go after both original and licensed content.”
So far, Facebook hasn’t released any metrics on how Watch is doing, and “third-party research outfits like Nielsen, comScore and Tubular Labs don’t publicly provide figures for the video content, either.” Now in its third season, “Ball in the Family,” which follows LaVar Ball, his wife and his son, L.A. Lakers point guard Lonzo, has “nearly 1.5 million followers,” with episodes that have been viewed “more than 110 million times.” Facebook’s public stats reveal that the show “increased average views per episode from 2.6 million across the first run to 4.6 million for Season 2.”
Facebook head of global creative strategy Ricky Van Veen noted that this show first put Watch on the map. But Facebook considers three seconds as a “view,” so it’s hard to tell how big the audience really is. Social video analytics company Delmondo reported that, “in October 2017, two months into the launch of the new platform, the average watch time for content was 23 seconds per session.”
Van Veen focuses on social engagement results: While “Red Table Talk” has 2.2 million followers since its May 7 debut, the program’s Facebook group “has nearly 260,000 members who discuss the show and submit questions for the hosts to chew on every week.” That, said Van Veen, is “a bull’s eye for us in terms of Facebook trying to connect people and create community.”
Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter pointed out, however, that Facebook’s video strategy is “several years away from being a meaningful contributor to profits.” Magid senior vice president of global media and entertainment Mike Bloxham agreed, noting there is no guarantee of success.
“It’s not a slam dunk,” he said.