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Facebook Watch and the Battle for Alt-TV

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A New Way to Watch

Yesterday, Facebook unveiled its Watch platform for original video content. A cross between livestreaming and content hosting, the Watch platform will feature content for a variety of viewers, from live Major League Baseball games, to cooking, comedy, and even live chats with New York Times bestselling authors. Content outlets like Buzzfeed, ATTN and The Dodo will publish their content to the site, giving Facebook partial ownership of the content.

This is huge news for Facebook, whose offerings have been slowly creeping into the video space. From viewers who watch Facebook Live videos 3 times longer than pre-recorded content, to the 13.8% increase in audience engagement for vertical video ads on their platform, the ability to comment and share a viewing experience has quick become one of the platform’s biggest strengths. Facebook Watch is the next evolution for the company, who’s value is fast becoming footage-focused.

And while the announcement is exciting, Facebook Watch still has a ways to go. The pilot will be rolled out to a select number of US users, and Facebook will begin funding a select number of creators to begin creating content for the site. Watch’s early days will be its most important as initial audience reactions and program offerings shape the platform’s future as a whole. In all the excitement,  there’s still one unanswered question: will audiences care?

Watch’s Existing Contenders

There are already several contenders in the original content space, namely YouTube. Its biggest stars boast an upwards of 150 million collective subscribers with live broadcasts of 30,000 plus average viewers. But live video isn’t the only place YouTube excels—it’s had the jump on some of the biggest web series to date. Online series like

Issa Rae’s “Awkward Black Girl” and Epic Rap Battles have years on Facebook’s new content, with a loyal fanbase to match. And with networks like HBO picking up these webseries to develop into featu

re-length shows, those followers are likely to migrate.

But Watch’s plan isn’t just limited to short-form comedy. The platform plans to host a wide array of content from lifestyle to interviews, a bold strike at existing Netflix Originals and services like Disney Live, whose termination of their Netflix deal marks a big shift for established entertainment services. These outlets have the power of big names on their side, and Facebook’s lack of brand name content poses a sizeable challenge for creators looking to draw new audiences from loyal demographics.

The Long Game

Still, it’s not insurmountable. Buzzfeed and ATTN have already made names for themselves on Facebook, and shorts from personalities like Quinta B, Tasty recipe videos, and digestible news stories might just make for a winning combination. While Watch’s future is yet to be seen, it will be interesting to see what answer big platforms will have for Facebook’s new program. That answer might come in the form of increased creator scouting, content development programs or new branches of these platforms directed at attracting niche audiences. Either way, it looks like the landscape of television has been permanently shifted—again.

 

 

 

 

 

Dylan Wise

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