How brands and marketers can leverage Facebook Watch

Facebook plans to sink nearly $1bn into original video content over the next year to build out its newly launched Watch tab, which serves as a hub for longer-form, TV-like series that the social giant is hoping will help it rival the likes of YouTube.

Advertisers currently have the option of running mid-roll ads during Watch shows, and Facebook recently said that it will begin testing pre-roll ads for Watch as well. But brands are also interested in creating branded shows for the platform, even though it’s still in its early days.

At the moment, a select group of creators and publishers like Refinery29 and Business Insider are being funded by Facebook to create original shows for Watch. These creators and publishers also have the option of creating sponsored shows for Watch as long as they use Facebook’s “branded content” tag, and brands are expressing interest — but the episodic, longform nature of Watch could prevent it from being a viable offering for marketers without big budgets.

Managing director at We Are Social Benjamin Arnold said that brands are interested in Watch, but are not yet committing to it since publishing a regular, TV-like series isn’t exactly a small undertaking.

“Creating ongoing video content at this level is a heavy lift, financially and creatively,” said Arnold. “That’s been the largest barrier when considered as part of a multi-platform program.”

Some brands have opted to sponsor individual episodes of existing shows rather than commit to sponsoring a full series or branded content partnership. For example, Squarespace recently sponsored an episode of “The Art of Photography,” a show produced by filmmaker and photographer Ted Forbes.

Even so, the fact that Facebook hasn’t revealed much about how Watch content is performing is another reason why Arnold believes marketers could be hesitant about it.

“It's been a challenge to say how much people are actually watching videos, as [Facebook counts] a view after three seconds where video lengths average between four to 20 mins,” he said. “Initial data suggests that retention is only around 23 seconds per video. Though it's better than the News Feed retention, it's nowhere close to top YouTube videos or TV.”

Overall, Arnold thinks that brands should wait and see how Watch evolves — and what kind of success it experiences — before going all in.

“If they want to invest in being talked about for being an early-adopter of a platform, then yes, it has potential for payoff,” he said. “But if they're looking for engaged, long-term viewers and don't have the budget to test and potentially fail - it could be best to wait out this period where everyone else is testing and learning.”

It’s still anyone’s guess as to how popular Facebook Watch will become, but the social giant’s hefty investment into original content shows that it’s an endeavor the company is not taking lightly. And for good reason: a recent report out of Hootsuite counts the “growth of social TV” as one of its top trends for 2018.

Growth in this area could be promising for brands as well as publishers: in the report, Hootsuite states that “social networks will encourage brands to become broadcasters as mobile video and social TV-style programming take the spotlight” in 2018. According to L2 research cited in the report, brand videos on YouTube received 54 percent fewer video views per video than Facebook in the first quarter of 2017, something that Hootsuite says makes Facebook the “king for engagement.”

Despite the potential it may have, Facebook Watch has yet to catch on in any real way among viewers. According to Arnold, Watch will have to establish itself as a true video destination before getting any serious attention from marketers.

“It feels like the platform is desperately searching for its first big ‘hit.’ If and when that happens, then marketers and brands will surely take a more serious look at investing budget and production into Watch,” said Arnold.

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Minda Smiley

Minda Smiley is a reporter at The Drum covering creativity and advertising. Based in Philadelphia, she primarily covers independent agencies and B2B marketing. She also oversees The Drum’s “Independent Influence,” a weekly series that spotlights the work, perspectives and inspirations behind independent agencies. During her time at The Drum, she has covered industry events including SXSW, ANA Masters of Marketing, 4A’s Transformation and C2 Montréal. She is a graduate of the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism.

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