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The YouTubification of Facebook

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Imitation is the greatest form of flattery.

The playbook of imitation

In the last 18 months, Facebook has used an aggressive playbook of imitating innovation through Instagram to squash the progress of competitor Snapchat. First lenses - launched in 2016 - then Stories, in March 2017, which now has more than 150M daily users closing in on Snapchat’s own 191M daily active users .

One competitor Facebook has long had in their sights has been YouTube, in particular the huge ad dollars it generates for Google through video ads.

Instagram launched IGTV a long-form video feature within the app and stand-alone mobile app allowing anyone to set-up a channel and begin broadcasting (sounds familiar).

Meanwhile users on Facebook have seen the advent of Live, allowing users to broadcast live from anywhere in the world at any time (again sound familiar?). Then came ‘Watch’, a direct competitor in the US to YouTube’s established original content shows in which Facebook worked with content partners such as NASA, Hearst, and BuzzFeed to create shows which could be viewed in a Watch tab on Facebook.

After a year of testing the feature in the US, Facebook rolled out Watch globally in August, placing less emphasis on original content and using it as a way to feature any long-form (3+ minute) content from a page.

The move to monetisation

We have worked for more than a year with Discovery Network in the UK to bust the myth that millennials won’t watch longer form video content. Having created a strategy that drives over 60M views of longer-form (3+ minute) social video content in less than 6 months, we have created a community of young viewers rather than fans. This strategy led Discovery to winning the prestigious Broadcast Digital Award for Best Digital Support for a Channel, beating the likes of BBC3 and MTV.

Why is this important? Facebook recently rolled out mid-roll video ad to a select group of partners with Discovery UK chosen as one of a handful of publishers and media organisations. This has now led to an opportunity to drive huge value from Discovery’s social audience who are used to consuming long-form (3+ minute) social video.

This opportunity to monetise video content direct from Facebook spells problems for YouTube. If an army of highly engaged Facebook users feel comfortable watching longer-form video content on the platform it could push publishers to start housing more of their premium long-form content on Facebook rather than YouTube. It’s become increasingly difficult to drive a huge audience for a specific video on YouTube along with brand safety concerns.

If Facebook can take ad revenue from their rival and start to become the home of premium long-form video content that would be incredibly valuable for them, while also weakening one of their biggest competitors in the process.

Facebook Watch and the future of long-form video

This goes further though than a few mid-roll ads in 3+ minute videos. Facebook spent a year in the US testing ‘Watch’ - their answer to YouTube - with some fairly impressive results. According to an internal reporting from Facebook, 50 million people in the US come to Facebook Watch to view videos each month and the total time spent within the tab increased 14-fold over the year-long test.

Facebook rolled out ‘Watch’ globally in August though seemingly having taken some lessons from their year-long pilot. Rather than focus on original episodic ‘shows’, the feature takes any pages long-form video content and features it at the top of the page.

Users now have a tab in the middle of the mobile app, which takes them to a specific ‘Watch’ page where you can view long-form content from all the pages you Like in a ‘Watchlist’. The wording of key features has deliberately aped YouTube to create familiarly. Underneath your ‘Watchlist’ users are served a ‘Top video’ based on your user interests and content you watch on the platform. You can edit your ‘Watchlist’ and are prompted to follow other publishers producing long-form content on Facebook.

‘Watch’ and users adoption of the feature has two key benefits for Facebook. First, it encourages users to spend more ‘quality time’ on site and in-app, as time spent on Facebook has decreased by roughly 50 million hours every day. That's roughly a reduction of 2.14 minutes per day per user globally, equating to around a 5% decrease in the total time spent on the platform.

Secondly, it has the added benefit of loosening Google’s grip on ad revenue from long-form video content while encouraging publishers to produce and house more of this content within Facebook. This content can be recycled for Facebook-owned IGTV, giving publishers two shots at their content finding an audience.

As brands and publishers start looking for ways to gain value back from the large sums of money they have already invested in Facebook, their solution may well lie in producing long-form video that can be monetised and find a potentially huge audience within the platform. This content needs to engaging, and enrich a viewer’s experience as it now competing with TV, with Ericsson predicting that 50% of viewing will be mobile by 2020, and the vast ocean of mobile video content already online.

Tom Jarvis, founder, Wilderness

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