TV Bland: First up on Facebook's Tame Video Service is a Show About Cheese

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Credit: Illustration by Ad Age

Facebook's new video hub, Watch, announced on Wednesday, seems to be taking the safe road. Its offerings, from partners including The Atlantic, Hearst, Mashable, ATTN, National Geographic, Condé Nast and NASA, are free of partisan politics and hard-hitting news—at least, for now.

The sharpest programming might be a show about cheese, produced by The Insider, which takes Insider staff around the world to sample, well, cheese.

"We understand the appeal that cheese has when it comes to social," says Nicholas Carson, editor in chief of Insider. "People go nuts for this stuff."

The dairy-based series is indicative of the kind of non-offensive content Facebook wants to foster. Programming, it says, will focus on lifestyle, culture, fashion, sports, nature and science. A major goal is to get people talking and sharing.

"What Facebook is trying to do is allow publishers to build a community around a particular show with recurring themes and narrative arcs," says Carson.

Facebook fans who visit the Watch tab, for instance, will be alerted to shows from pages they already follow in the main social network, he says.

"Facebook is putting a lot behind this," says Kim Lau, VP-general manager at The Atlantic. "I don't know if consumers will change their behavior, but we're excited to be part of the experiment."

The Atlantic will host two series focused on science and education. Other types of shows include a dating game in virtual reality from Condé Nast, and a show that traces the heritage of dogs from Mashable, called "What's Your Mutt."

Facebook paid for the creation of the shows, according to a number of publishers familiar with the investment. By doing so, the company makes it less risky for publishers to test the platform, they say.

Like YouTube, Facebook is splitting ad revenue with publishers: 55 percent for the creator, 45 percent for itself. And there are ad breaks like those in traditional TV.

Notably, BuzzFeed and Vice were not among the names touted at launch, and several people familiar with the company's thinking say Facebook is concerned about delivering shows and content that could offend.

In contrast, Twitter's new TV-inspired service will feature a 24-hour news channel from Bloomberg. And on Thursday, Twitter announced the start date (Sept. 25) of its first morning show with BuzzFeed, which promised to include news.

Twitter, which will also have sports, culture and entertainment in the mix, has been trying to steer a turnaround by drawing on its strength as a place of heated discussion around news, media and politics. But this year, creators are facing increased scrutiny over subject matter across all platforms thanks to brands that froze spending on YouTube because ads were appearing alongside content they deemed objectionable.

Of course, this leaves open the possibility that, should Facebook loosen its own content parameters, it could pick up creators looking to escape YouTube's stricter enforcement policies.

"To start, many of the shows are entertainment-focused," a Facebook spokeswoman wrote in an e-mailed statement. "But Watch is a platform, and we want any publisher or creator to be able to create a show—we'll be opening up the platform over time."

Facebook hasn't announced any traditional TV partners such as NBC or Fox. Nor has it shown any inclination to chase prestige TV into the living room.

"To have a major impact will require billions of annual spending, and significant margin erosion," says Brian Wieser, analyst with Pivotal Research Group. "It's not clear they are going to go to that level any time soon."

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