Facebook Watch Going Global

Jada Pinkett Smith Red Table Talks - Screengrab - H 2018
Screengrab/YouTube

"We will continue investing in some original shows, and we will really lean into supporting a wide range of amazing video content from creators and publishers around the world," says one top executive.

Facebook is taking its Watch platform, the streaming content service competing for people's attention with traditional TV, as well as YouTube, Netflix, Amazon and Apple's upcoming effort and others, global while continuing to evolve its funding strategy.

The availability of Watch around the world, unveiled on Wednesday and effective on Thursday, comes a little more than a year after the social media giant launched the video effort in the U.S. where it has rolled out entertainment, news, sports and other offerings, including Red Table Talk with Jada Pinkett Smith, beauty mogul Huda Kattan’s behind-the-scenes show Huda Boss and live Major League Baseball games.

Fidji Simo, vp product (video, games and advertising in News Feed), and Matthew Henick, head of content planning and strategy, media partnerships, told reporters on a conference call that Facebook would make its existing original programming available worldwide, with subtitles where needed, after fine-tuning the U.S. service over the past year and seeing it gain traction.

"We are really excited about our overall progress," said Henick. "We have seen the Watch ecosystem really take off."

"Over the past year, we've made the experience more social — like making it easier to see which videos your friends have liked or shared, creating shows that have audience participation at their core, and opening Watch to videos from Pages," added Simo. "Every month, more than 50 million people in the U.S. come to watch videos for at least a minute in Watch — and total time spent watching videos in Watch has increased by 14 times since the start of 2018."

Facebook's rollout around the globe will allow users worldwide to discover original programming and other videos via their personalized Watch feed, including the Watchlist that consists of recent videos from Pages they follow and videos saved from their News Feed.

The executives signaled that Facebook would continue offering a mix of content. "You have seen a lot of changes in the product in the last year, the biggest one being expanding beyond shows to bring in all the content that people care about," Simo said. "This last year has really allowed us to figure that out and come to market internationally with a much stronger product."

Henick added that Facebook would also continue "evolving our funding content strategy," explaining: "Over the past year, we funded a number of original shows for Watch, and many have found strong, engaged audiences. Our funding strategy has always been about kick-starting an ecosystem of content." Long-term, the focus is on creating a place "where all creators and publishers can find an audience, build a community of passionate fans and earn money from their work," he said.

What does that mean for the funding of programming? "In terms of directly funding content, we still see it as one of a spectrum of ways to bring quality content to Watch," Henick said without citing an overall budget. "We will continue investing in some original shows, and we will really lean into supporting a wide range of amazing video content from creators and publishers around the world to help our partners find success with their videos."

What happens to existing originals in international markets, and does the global rollout of Watch change the way Facebook thinks about the audience appeal of originals? "With the originals we have funded so far, we will be looking to localize them in markets with subtitles,” Henick said.

In terms of new originals, he said "we are going to still look to fund shows that have global appeal and then in each individual market work directly with our partners like we always have to make sure that they are finding their audience and being able to build their business."

Henick said though that "I can’t share any exact number" when asked how many shows from international markets Facebook may fund.

He also didn’t say how much the firm would, going forward, invest in scripted programming, such as teen drama Skam Austin, which consists of short clips supplemented with screenshots of messages between the characters and social media accounts created for the fictional characters. "The great thing about Skam is that the audience can live with the characters," said Henick in signaling continued appetite for shows playing to Facebook's social focus. "There is a variety of partners who can make that type of content. So we will both be working with the more traditional partners … or an individual creator who is able to tell a story that may be scripted, but still feel native and organic to their audience."

The Facebook executives highlighted that the company has been focusing on carving out its own space at a time of growing online video options. "We know that there is huge competition for people’s attention these days and that they have a host of choices when it comes to watching video," she said. “But Facebook Watch is different, because it is built on the notion that watching videos doesn’t have to be a passive experience and can instead connect you with others."

Added Henick: "Video isn’t just a passive experience on Watch. We are building tools and working with partners to build a more active experience,” such as polls and ways for fans to affect what happens onscreen. "That is something that Facebook brings that most other partners can not."

Simo highlighted the Pinkett Smith show as an example of content that really works on Facebook. "Red Table Talk has really utilized the interactivity of Facebook to engage their community in conversation, talking directly to fans in their group, connecting in real time with live video and using polls to let the audience vote on their favorite shows to watch," she said. "A lot of the value of the show is actually the conversation that happens after the show has aired."

Importantly, Facebook is rolling out monetization tools for creators around the world amid the global launch of Watch, which Henick said means a bigger platform for content creators. "Taking Watch global also means new opportunities for creators and publishers around the world," Simo highlighted. "We're expanding our Ad Breaks program so more partners can make money from their videos, and we're offering new insights, tools and best practices for Pages in Creator Studio."

Ad Breaks is immediately available in the U.S., U.K., Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. In September, Facebook will roll it out to Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, The Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Germany, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Thailand, supporting English content and various local languages. In the coming months, it will be rolled out to further countries and for more languages.

The social media firm is also lowering the eligibility barrier. Pages are now eligible for Ad Breaks if they have been creating three-minute videos that have generated more than 30,000 one-minute views in total over the past two months, have 10,000 Facebook followers, meet the company's Monetization Eligibility Standards and are located in a country where Ad Breaks is available. 

Ad Breaks currently includes mid-roll and pre-roll ad formats, as well as image ads directly below the video, with publishers or creators earning a share of the revenue, while Facebook keeps the rest.