Facebook starts rolling out funded shows for Watch

Facebook’s latest attempt to take on YouTube begins in earnest this week as various publishers begin to roll out Facebook-funded shows on the platform.

Business Insider’s lifestyle brand Insider is debuting two new shows, “The Great Cheese Hunt,” which travels to multiple countries to spotlight different cheese-based dishes, and “It’s Cool, But Does It Really Work?” which features unique tech and gadgets that have previously gone viral on the internet. Tomorrow, news and issues publisher Attn will premiere “We Need to Talk,” a relationship-advice show, which will be followed by “Health Hacks,” starring Jessica Alba, on Friday. Hearst has two shows called “Wiki What?” which will feature celebrities such as T.J. Miller and Danny McBride reviewing their own Wikipedia pages, and “Untangled,” which is described by the publishers as a “witty science show that celebrates the undeniable satisfaction of watching visual organization in a world of chaos.” Meanwhile, food video giant Tastemade is debuting four shows, including “Safe Deposit,” “Struggle Meals,” “Food to Die For” and “Kitchen Little,” over the next week.

Refinery29 is behind the scripted fiction series called “Strangers,” which debuts with its first two episodes on Thursday.

All of these shows are part of Facebook’s shows initiative, through which the platform subsidizes the cost of longer-form, episodic video series that Facebook users can watch on the Facebook Watch platform. Facebook has signed deals with more than 30 different content partners to kick-start Watch. Once Watch is more widely available in the U.S., Facebook expects to offer “hundreds” of shows, according to a spokesperson.

“With the launch of Watch, Facebook is evolving into a platform where you go for more premium content experiences,” said Jonathan Hunt, svp of audience development and strategy for National Geographic. “Watch is intended to become that lean-back video experience that you haven’t traditionally seen on Facebook.”

With more than 44 million Facebook likes, it’s no surprise that Nat Geo is doing three shows for Facebook, starting with “We’re Wired That Way,” which will explore topics such as why humans lie, cry and kiss. The other two Nat Geo shows are “Which Extreme Animal Am I?” and “Safari Live.”

Produced by staffers within Nat Geo’s eight-person social video team, these are bigger productions than the text-on-screen short clips littering the Facebook News Feed. “We’re Wired That Way,” for instance, incorporates data visualizations and graphics, and it’s backed by research. While the eight-person team made the shows, they received an assist from other departments within Nat Geo including editorial, data insights and design, according to Hunt.

“What we’re not in the business of doing is text-on-screen formats that pander to people’s emotions — we want to build our brand,” Hunt said. “It’s especially important when you’re seeing the research that’s telling you nearly half of the social audiences who discover things in their feeds can’t recall the source of what they’re seeing. That should be a wake up call when you’re in the business of building a brand.”

Watch is Facebook’s strongest move yet in its effort to compete with YouTube — where a lot of these shows and formats have already been proven to work. Most of the shows Facebook is funding are described as “spotlight shows,” with most episode lengths between four and 10 minutes. Facebook is paying $10,000 to $40,000 per episode for these types of shows, buying at least five episodes upfront with the idea of releasing them weekly in an effort to get users to return to Watch more frequently.

Facebook also plans to run mid-roll units within the programs, sharing revenue with content partners after they’ve recouped the production costs. (Later this year, Facebook will roll out its bigger-budget TV shows, for which it’s reportedly willing to pay as much as $3 million per episode.)

Oren Katzeff, head of programming for Tastemade, said the publisher is constructing its shows in a way that makes it easy to drop an ad unit in the middle. “Facebook fills the ad, but the show runs naturally even if no ad runs,” he said.

Whether Facebook can successfully create a viewing experience similar to YouTube — especially after stumbles with Suggested Videos and Facebook Live — is an open question. There is evidence that suggests serialized and episodic video programming can boost viewership and watch time.

But since Facebook is willing to fund some original content and create a programming environment where longer, serialized videos can work, publishers are willing to invest. Insider, for instance, has a new three-person team called Insider Shows, which will oversee the development and production of shows for Facebook and any other platforms.

“As this medium develops, we’re excited to invest more and more into this team,” said Nicholas Carlson, editor-in-chief of Insider.

Insider is optimistic about its initial foray into Facebook shows, with “The Great Cheese Hunt” and “It’s Cool, But Does It Really Work?” averaging roughly 2,000 views per minute in their first few hours on Facebook, according to Carlson. It shouldn’t be a surprise, as cheese-focused content has benefited Insider on Facebook.

“Cheese works for this medium; it’s a type of food that has been a real winner for us in the autoplay environment,” Carlson said. “When Facebook presented us the opportunity to expand our style of video storytelling into something that’s longer, this felt perfectly visual for what they want to do with Watch.”

This piece has been updated to include the correct titles for two shows Nat Geo is making for Facebook Watch: “What Extreme Animal Am I?” and “Safari Live.”


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