Facebook Watch receives 75 million viewers a day, according to new statistics shared by the company. But despite its growth, the platform is still a fraction the size of its most important rival, YouTube, and some media companies are concerned by the platform's ever-changing character.
On Thursday, Facebook gave its most detailed look at the size of Watch, the video offering it launched in 2017 to get people to watch longer form programming. Facebook said its 75 million daily viewers spend 20 minutes on average every day on Watch videos, and there are 400 million people who visit Watch each month for at least a minute. That makes Watch a sprout compared to YouTube, which has 1.9 billion monthly viewers and claims 60 billion minutes a day of view time across the service.
Jim Nail, a researcher with Forrester, wasn't impressed by Facebook's numbers, saying "20 minutes is a minimal amount of time." The time spent suggest that Watch has not quite turned into a destination for committed viewing, and is likely similar to other Facebook video viewing habits.
"As far as consumer behavior goes, likely this is 'time-killer' viewing, in line waiting, on the bus or train commuting," Nail said. "On the other hand, 75 million is a significant number."
The service was unveiled a little more than a year ago, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged in the latest earnings call with Wall Street analysts that it has not grown as fast as the company hoped.
Facebook is in a heated rivalry with YouTube, and smaller platforms like Snapchat and Twitter even, to develop premium ad-supported shows that could potentially lead the way to the next-generation of television. All the platforms are trying to convince advertisers that they have quality shows that appeal to audiences who are watching less TV, and they hope their ads can command TV-like prices from brands.
However, these offerings only appeal to advertisers if they can show that the audience is as engaged as they are on TV. Facebook has had to rethink its Watch strategy multiple times in the past year, each time giving media partners a new mandate on what type of content it wants. Partners say that the uncertainty has made Watch difficult to master.
A person who works for a top publisher on Facebook, and spoke on condition of anonymity, says it no longer pitches news shows, because it's now all about entertainment and lifestyle programming. Another publishing partner, also speaking on condition of anonymity, says that even simple requests from Facebook, like changing the ideal length it suggests for videos, adds to confusion about the platform.
One of the biggest changes to contend with, however, is funding. Another media executive, speaking on condition of anonymity, says Facebook is not as interested in originals from them, meaning shows Facebook buys outright to produce.
"Original content is expensive," the media executive says. "The question is does Facebook want to pump money into Watch. If not, that's a sign they aren't as bullish as they once were."
A Facebook spokeswoman said by e-mail that Facebook has produced "dozens" of originals and helped fund many more shows, but the broader strategy has always included licensing and ad revenue sharing deals, too.
In August 2017, Facebook launched Watch with shows it paid to produce from publishers like The Atlantic, Mashable, Tastemade, Business Insider, The Dodo, Univision and others. Facebook was cutting big checks to get the media companies to create for the service.
Within months, Facebook wanted most of its media partners to switch to a wholly ad-supported model, where publishers could make enough money splitting ad revenue that they would be inclined to create their own shows for Watch without Facebook's backing. Facebook also looked for deals with major networks like CBS and Viacom, which both now post videos from their network TV properties.
This leaves Facebook programming Watch with a variety of strategies, paying for original shows, licensing shows and simply splitting ads with the content providers it doesn't pay directly.
On Thursday, Facebook announced shows that would get new seasons, mostly scripted shows and dramas, like "Sorry For Your Loss," a series from Elizabeth Olsen, and Kerry Washington's "Five Points." Meanwhile Recode reported that Facebook was in talks with AT&T, which owns Time Warner, to offer HBO through its platform.
Networks like Viacom are still producing with Watch, with MTV creating a "Real World" spinoff for the site and other programs.
"Any time you try to launch a new platform a new content business there's going be hits and misses," says Kelly Day, president of Viacom Digital Studios. She says Viacom has seen early signs of success on Watch with Comedy Central's "Between the Scenes," a program featuring The Daily Show's Trevor Noah, which can generate up to 70 million views.
"Facebook has got to train the audience to look for that kind content, and it's not going to happen over night," Day says.
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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said MTV is creating a "Jersey Shore" Watch. Viacom is actually producing a "Jersey Shore" spinoff show for YouTube, not Facebook Watch, called "Cooking in the Crib with Snooki and Joey."