Facebook to Shift Funding Strategy for Watch Shows

Courtesy of Refinery29; iStock; Courtesy of Facebook

The social network seeks more than viral clips as it aims to fully finance higher-quality projects.

Less than three months after Facebook began rolling out its video tab, Watch, the social network is rethinking how it will work with media companies to bring new shows onto its platform.

Several digital media executives tell THR that they expect Facebook to stop partially funding videos from publisher and producer partners as it focuses on buying projects outright. The move is expected to provide more funding opportunities for shows that keep viewers coming back and watching for longer periods of time, as opposed to one-off viral hits.

These fully funded projects, known internally as "hero" shows, include more ambitious TV-style series such as recent pickups Five Points, a teen drama exec produced by Kerry Washington; Skam, a drama from Simon Fuller; and premium shortform and midform series. Shows that Facebook already has renewed for second seasons include comedy Strangers, docuseries Ball in the Family and Mike Rowe's unscripted Returning the Favor.

Facebook began rolling out Watch to U.S. users in late August. In order to fill the new video tab with a range of content, it spent the months leading up to the launch striking deals with dozens of partners for shortform and midform video series. It bought a handful of shows outright but, in many cases, helped partially subsidize the cost of production. Partners were also given the option of publishing videos into the Watch ecosystem independent of Facebook funding. In most cases, Facebook offered a cut of the advertising revenue made off the the shows. 

Media executives were not surprised that Facebook would eventually shift its funding focus to "hero" shows. Facebook regularly tests out new products with its publisher partners, overseen by vp partnerships Dan Rose. It paid media companies (including THR) in 2016 to create live videos for its newsfeed but didn't plan on funding those broadcasts permanently. Executives have described its recent video funding as helping seed Watch with content and learn about what was appealing to audiences. "It's just the expectation with Facebook," says one executive of the frequent experimentation. 

A Facebook spokeswoman declined to comment. In a Nov. 1 call with investors, CEO Mark Zuckerberg reiterated Facebook's investment in Watch but acknowledged, "We're going to try a bunch of things."

A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.