Facebook’s international rollout of Watch has been slow going. U.K. publishers face moving timelines and an unclear pitching process, as Facebook aims to iron out the kinks from its U.S. Watch launch.
The U.K. timeline for the rollout of the dedicated Watch tab is still unclear. According to publishers, Facebook has not committed to a date. Now, some publishers are estimating its arrival in 2019. When contacted for this story, Facebook said it had no updates to share on the launch of Watch in the U.K. In the U.S., Watch launched in August 2017 with a select number of partners, including Attn, Tastemade and Refinery29, and has since expanded, with Facebook offering dozens of publishers subsidies to create show content.
Facebook has been talking about Watch shows with U.K. publishers and production studios since the beginning of the year, according to multiple sources. But it has not made any direct commissions yet from U.K. companies. While U.K. publishers and production studios that have a Los Angeles presence pitch Watch shows through LA teams, the commissioning process for U.K. companies still seems unclear.
“There is no formal pitching process that we have been made aware of,” said a digital publisher requesting anonymity so as not to disrupt relations with Facebook. “After putting together decks for self-funded, original and episodic content for Facebook Watch, we’ve had no feedback and zero movement.”
This same publisher is looking to create pilot episodes for Watch off its own back, in the hope that Facebook will pay attention, according to the executive.
Equally, Facebook in the U.K. has been vague about the types of shows it wants for Watch, according to a second digital publisher, who said the platform has shied away from being too prescriptive so it doesn’t pigeonhole content and then lead to unrealistic expectations of what could get made.
In the U.S., Facebook has been clearer on the types of content it wants and in March announced plans to partner with 10 news publishers to create news content, a genre from which it has previously distanced itself.
Creators in the U.S. have said Facebook rushed them to produce content, leading to a deluge of low-quality content on Watch and dwindling demand for ad breaks. To avoid the same mistakes, Facebook is now taking its time, to some U.K. publishers’ chagrin.
The platform is being more selective about whom it commissions content from and which videos can be monetized through mid-roll ads, clamping down on Watch pages full of subpar content and looped or prank videos that are a far cry from Facebook’s ambitions to be a premium content destination.
“Facebook understands the initial launch of Watch wasn’t the best,” said the second digital publisher requesting anonymity to avoid derailing ongoing conversations with the platform. “It’s looking to revamp the whole process to get beyond the teething problems. It states there’s been an abuse of monetization it doesn’t like, and it wants a new platform that’s fresh and brand-friendly.”
However, how Facebook revamps the Watch pitching process is still unclear, and the same issues of publisher hierarchy in testing new products plays a factor, combined with a non-U.S. team that’s touting its commitment to publisher partnerships, but leaving publishers wanting more communication.
Watch shows in the U.S. have not yielded the expected traffic numbers, with publishers still hoping for a more robust monetization model. Subsidies from the platform will inevitably come to an end, while self-funded shows monetized by mid-roll ads have been lackluster. Yet this hasn’t deterred U.K. publishers. “If the money [from Watch] isn’t huge but makes content scalable, then we can make enough money in other ways,” said the second digital publisher. In the U.S. publishers are already exploring brand sponsorship, merchandise and licensing to other platforms to drive revenue.
Yet the journey to becoming a U.K. Facebook Watch partner is not an obvious one, and while publishers that aren’t part of the program can still monetize video through mid-roll, there are benefits to having Watch pages, not least in getting closer to the platform.
“There’s little indication of the rationale behind which [few U.K.] publishers are chosen for the platform,” said the first digital publisher.