Facebook Hits Play on Watch, Its Video Tab

By Deepa Seetharaman Features Dow Jones Newswires

Facebook Inc. is taking a serious shot at YouTube.

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The tech behemoth, which isn't shy about replicating rivals' features, is redesigning its video tab to bring Facebook's original programming front-and-center. The revamped video tab, now dubbed Watch, includes sections that showcase videos a user's friends are watching or those that spark a lot of debate on the platform, Facebook said Wednesday.

The new tab will roll out over the next several weeks.

Fidji Simo, who leads Facebook's video efforts, said that unlike YouTube, Facebook wants its shows to generate conversation, preferably on Facebook itself. Early on, new shows will have to apply, but eventually Facebook wants to make it possible for any creator to simply upload a show on Facebook, as they do on YouTube.

"The thing that we're doing that's similar is really creating a platform where everybody can come in, but the thing that's very different is all the content that we want to create is really around bringing communities together," Ms. Simo said. "The angle that we're taking is really finding shows that are about bringing fans together."

The initiative is part of Facebook's broader push to invest more in video, which Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg predicts will be the largest driver of Facebook's business over the next two to three years. Video ads will also help offset what Facebook expects will be slowing growth in news feed ad, its primary source of revenue.

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Last year, Facebook paid publishers to produce live videos to jump-start production of live streams among its users. Today, one in five videos posted on Facebook are live.

Ms. Simo said a small portion of Facebook's new original shows are paid for by the company, while the rest will receive a portion of ad revenue. Facebook's goal is to create an ecosystem of video creators who are entirely sustained by revenue from ads shown in the middle of their videos, also known as ad breaks or mid-roll ads, she added.

This strategy echoes that of YouTube, a division of Alphabet Inc., which in 2011 spent as much as $100 million buying content as part of the service's attempt to compete with cable television. While YouTube's shows weren't particularly popular, they helped build a broader infrastructure to support creators, many of whom rely mainly on YouTube for revenue. Earlier this year, YouTube reached a major milestone when it reported that its viewers world-wide were watching more than 1 billion hours of videos a day.

Facebook declined to say how much they are spending on original content.

Each original show will get a page within the video tab that links to a Facebook group where viewers can chat. Unlike Netflix or Amazon.com Inc., Facebook plans to roll out an episode every week rather than release all the episodes at once for binge-watching.

Facebook executives spent the first half of the year discussing its video tab plans with creators and Hollywood agents. People familiar with the matter previously said Facebook was soliciting pitches for shows in six main categories: sports, science, pop culture, lifestyle, gaming and teens. Facebook didn't want to pay for a news show, the people said.

Wednesday, Ms. Simo said Facebook wanted a broad range of content. The company's original programming includes a children's cooking show and a series about science topics.

ATTN, a publisher that often tackles politically charged topics like climate change, decided to create lighter fare for Facebook's tab, partly based on Facebook's specifications, said ATTN co-founder Jarrett Moreno. ATTN's two shows for Facebook include a healthy living show hosted by actress Jessica Alba that spans 10 episodes.

Mr. Moreno said it would get a portion of ad revenue and that Facebook is guaranteeing a certain amount revenue for every episode.

Write to Deepa Seetharaman at Deepa.Seetharaman@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

August 09, 2017 21:05 ET (01:05 GMT)