Facebook takes on TV and YouTube with Watch
Facebook has tanks on YouTube’s lawn. Well, on a limited number of American lawns, anyway. The company has unveiled its “Watch” tab, which the company says will be providing original TV shows for its two billion users.
“We hope Watch will be home to a wide range of shows – from reality to comedy to live sports,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post. “Some will be made by professional creators, and others from regular people in our community.”
It will be available on mobile, desktop, laptop and in the company’s TV apps, and will be a mixture of live content, one-off spectacles and series to keep track of. In classic Facebook style, it will be organised around what your friends are watching, alongside some gentle theming. For example, a section labelled “What’s Making People Laugh” will make its judgement based on the number of “Haha” emoji reactions, which makes my colleague Tom’s piece from a couple of years ago feel eerily prescient.
The announcement from Facebook frequently namechecks the word “community”, suggesting the company is really taking its change of mission statement seriously. “To help inspire creators and seed the ecosystem, we’ve also funded some shows that are examples of community-oriented and episodic video series,” writes Daniel Danker, Facebook’s director of product. “For example, Returning the Favor is a series hosted by Mike Rowe where he finds people doing something extraordinary for their community, tells the world about it, and in turn does something extraordinary for them. Candidates are nominated by Mike’s fans on Facebook.”
Alongside that reasonably transparent PR-friendly programming, Facebook highlights a few other shows it hopes will put it alongside YouTube and Netflix. Nas Daily is a daily video from a guy who currently makes one-minute travel videos; motivational speaker and author Gabby Bernstein will be doing live shows where she connects with fans in real-time; and Kitchen Little is a show where children watch a how-to guide on making a recipe and then instruct professional chefs with, presumably, “hilarious results”.
If you think that all sounds a little underwhelming for a company with Facebook’s cash reserves, I agree. To be entirely fair to Facebook, it’s also promising to broadcast a game of Major League Baseball each week, which could be the real jewel in the crown.
But this is where Facebook Watch may ultimately struggle to keep up with YouTube: if Facebook has a hand in it, then it has to appear sanitised and safe. Google doesn’t seem to feel the same way about YouTube – in part, perhaps, because it doesn’t share the brand name, so can be left to its own worrying devices.
Or perhaps I’m wrong, and we’ll see more edgy content as Facebook gets its bearings. It’s not in the UK yet, but the company promises to gradually roll it out to everyone “soon”. We’ve heard 28 August mooted as a possible worldwide launch date.
It’s not clear if there will be unique UK content at launch – although you’d imagine that depends on how good a deal the film makers are offered. At the very least, the company’s purchase of digital contents rights company Source3 last month suddenly makes much more sense.