Facebook Watch expands internationally but faces skepticism

To prove Facebook is bullish in its goal of bringing more people to its platform to watch video, and enticing more ad dollars from TV, it has signed up more international publishers across entertainment, news and sports.

Facebook is working with German broadcaster ProSiebenSat.1 to launch original digital-first content on Watch around shows including “The Voice Germany,” “Germany’s Next Top Model” and “Late Night Berlin.” For sport, it’s working with the International Cricket Council who’s making match previews, highlights, and insider commentary available on the platform. Facebook is also expanding its News in Watch program, where it will pay news publishers to create shows. It has also announced details of upcoming international shows. In the U.K., there has so far been a handful of Facebook-commissioned Watch programs. 

However, despite Facebook’s efforts to bring more international content to Watch, U.K. media agencies remain reticent about whether it can meet their requirements on scale, performance and brand safety.

In the U.S. Facebook reportedly paid news publishers between $1 million and $10 million for news shows, but was willing to ax them if the viewing figures weren’t up to scratch. News publishers are encouraged that platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, now realize that investing in quality content is good for PR and, hopefully, for users. For news publishers, there’s not much downside to Facebook paying for news shows.

“It’s skunkworks money,” said one global partner in the News in Watch program. “It means we can experiment with different types of news shows. We’ll learn what works. But we wouldn’t be doing these shows if they weren’t paying.”

Facebook claims more than 140 million people spend at least one minute per day in Watch. On average, these daily visitors spend more than 26 minutes in Watch every day, this has nearly doubled in the last six months. Although the company hasn’t released overall watch-time figures.

More viewers mean more revenue, and Facebook also said the number of partners using Ad Breaks — where the platform sells the inventory and takes a revenue cut — has more than tripled in the past year. The number of Pages earning over $1,000 in payouts to publishers and creators per month increased eightfold while Pages earning over $10,000 in payouts per month tripled over the last year, according to Facebook.

Nevertheless, publishers at the Digiday Video Summit Europe point out that viewers aren’t going to Facebook to watch video yet. The majority of viewing is occurring in-feed within the Watch creator content, but the proportion of impressions on Watch is growing as more users are discovering the tab and returning. This makes U.K. agencies reticent about the platform in its current guise.

“While the [Watch] video completion rates are more favorable than in-feed, there is still a gap between effective viewable pricing and being on par with TV,” said Kieley Taylor, global head of social, GroupM. “For Watch, impressions are core to pricing, so duration, while on average stronger, is not guaranteed. We’ve been clear: In-feed video delivery does not offer equivalent effective value as in-stream within the Watch tab or for Watch pricing.”

GroupM still considers Watch for the right media plan, said Taylor. The agency group will observe closely whether the additional content added to the platform will encourage more viewers. GroupM has also been encouraged by Facebook’s brand safety controls, which are the strongest within Watch.

But other agencies feel there’s a long way to go for Facebook to earn back trust around brand safety and become a more relevant U.K. video platform.

“It’s all got very quiet,” said one media agency executive who had expected talks to materialize around direct buys for certain Watch shows. Selling direct is available in the U.S. and Facebook has said it’s considering expanding it. “There are still doubts on media quality, in general, and managing publishers via blocklists specifically,” said the exec.

While this injection of planned international content should rebalance the slate, which is mostly U.S.-focused, Facebook has made smaller, steady moves into sports rights but will need to invest in expensive rights to make Watch a success in the U.K.

“They neither have the expertise nor the experience to build up original content programming,” said the agency exec.


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