Publishers are treating Facebook Watch like YouTube

Facebook’s Watch launched as a tightly curated approach to high quality video, but its future might be more like YouTube. Witness how publishers that aren’t being paid by Facebook make shows specifically for its Watch section can still take advantage of the Watch real estate by posting their existing shows there.

Case in point is USA Today Network, which is posting its show about feel-good stories, “Humankind,” to Watch. Facebook has promoted the show and is monetizing it with mid-roll ads, and while the money isn’t game-changing, USA Today Network has little to lose because it’s already making the show. In December alone, “Humankind” received 274 million views in Watch and now has more than 1 million followers to its Show page, said said Michael Kuntz, president of advertising sales and brand partnerships at the USA Today Network.

“Monetization from mid-roll has also been healthy, which is encouraging — definitely our highest-grossing franchise on Facebook,” he said.

The USA Today example shows how there’s more than one way to make money from a platform — and that Watch may morph into the YouTube model, where some creators are paid up front and some just get an ad revenue share. Creating shows for Facebook isn’t without risk anyway: Watch partners are finding the shows haven’t yielded much revenue so far because viewership is still in the developmental stage, despite Facebook having funded possibly 100 shows or more from publishers including BuzzFeed, Mashable and Hearst. And already, Facebook has decided it wants longer shows it can own, which means more money upfront for creators but limits the amount of money they can make from them.

PopSugar, in addition to two Watch shows that are funded by Facebook, has a pre-existing workout show, “Class FitSugar,” that it posts to Watch, where it’s already racked up about 320,000 followers. David Grant, president of PopSugar Studios, said while the publisher hasn’t gotten much monetization from this experiment, it’s learning what kind of shows have potential on Watch. The fitness videos are doing well because viewers seek them out for a specific reason, to work out. Another show, “Pretty Unfiltered,” featuring celebrity interviews, hasn’t done as well on Watch, which Grant thinks may be because they’re self-contained.

“If Facebook is trying to build a YouTube-type product, it’s showing some signs of succeeding,” Grant said. “We can see the [‘Class FitSugar’] use case being right for Watch: long-form content where people want to consume multiple episodes; they know the brand.”

Other publishers, including ESPN, NPR, The Washington Post, Bustle and LittleThings, also cross-post shows to Watch, and while they’re not monetizing them, some say they see Watch as another low-risk way to grow awareness for their shows. “We are experimenting with new formats and experiences to best serve sports fans wherever they’re consuming content,” an ESPN rep said. “Our focus at this time is to experiment and learn our way forward on new ways to reach sports fans.”

It’s good for publishers to test new products, but publishers will generate the most revenue on their owned-and-operated properties, said Brian Rifkin, co-founder of digital video player company JW Player. He urged publishers to make sure they’re not cannibalizing their own sites by running their video on another distributed platform where the monetization is still unproven.

“The revenue’s not there,” he said of Watch. “If I’m a publisher, I can get a lot more per ad if I run that on my site and run a pre-roll there. Offset that with if I ran it on Facebook, I’ll get a lot more views but less money per impression.”

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