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Is Facebook the future of TV?...Facebook Watch...

Over the years, many things have been promoted as ‘the future of television’, from TiVo to Netflix something new appears that will change our viewing habits forever. The thing is, they often do, TiVo has basically made schedules irrelevant, and Netflix brought us the joy, or torture, depending on your point of view, of binge watching.

But despite the popularity of both, they have never really brought a complete change in media consumption for the majority they way many assumed they would, the question now, with Facebook readying their new ‘Watch’ service, is whether the huge numbers using the platform adopt it? If they do, would that really be the future of TV, and does the sheer volume of people that use Facebook mean that this is finally the media consumption platform that will change the TV industry itself?


Facebook Watch


While the internet, and the Facebook service itself, evolves and changes significantly over time, one thing that has remained consistent from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is that the platform is not a content provider and publisher, but it will be difficult to continue that argument once his new media delivery platform is launched.

 Currently in trials with selected US based users, Watch places another tab on the Facebook feed we are all familiar with, and allows you to watch TV shows directly from within Facebook, and discuss them with friends as you do. The system is still in development, but includes a feature called Watchlist, that allows you to store your favorite shows, ad breaks and personalized content much in the way your feed tailors content to your tastes already.

The really interesting thing is that publishers can create sponsored content, and Facebook itself is looking to commission content for this Watch Hub, essentially becoming a broadcaster of sorts, albeit an entirely online one. The content they have secured so far includes livestreaming major US sporting events, such as Major League Baseball, World Surf League events and Major League Soccer, where they go with a more general viewing audience is not clear, but platform unique content is a distinct possibility.

What’s the Goal?

That is all well and good you may think, but what are Facebook actually trying to achieve with this investment? If we look at what Twitter has achieved, through partnerships with Buzzfeed and Bloomberg among others, is to create huge user retention on their platform through encouraging discussions of major live events, be they sporting events, political, social and news events as well as popular TV shows, where conversations happen globally about a specific topic.

Facebook are looking to keep people using their site longer, and after experimenting with auto playing video on timelines for a while, have come up with this answer to compete with the Twitter solution. By placing the content itself alongside the discussion, they enable a more cohesive experience for groups looking to talk about whatever it is they are watching than anything Twitter can offer at present.

With content lined up from publishers providing episodic content that audiences will return to repeatedly, and paid for content possible through around 140 arranged partnerships, Watch seems to be on the cusp of offering something new that fits the modern media consumption perfectly, the content and a medium for chat with others in real time, all in one place.

There are Problems

For Facebook, this all sounds like good news, but there are problems that will be created by the Watch platform. Facebook has been in the news regularly since the launch of Facebook live, its streaming service for users, for the often-graphic or otherwise unsuitable content of the videos uploaded to its platform. These criticisms, such as the case of a live video showing an 11-month-old girl being murdered, various sexual assaults and other crimes, have been deflected by Facebook by claiming it is not responsible for the content.

Instead, Facebook claims it is merely an aggregator of content, and resists any pressure to regulate the content it shows across its platform to its over 2 billion users. Its stance as an aggregator rather than a publisher has angered legislators around the world with its tenuous argument, when the Watch platform is launched, it would be difficult for even Facebook to claim it was anything other than the publisher.

The problem there, is that once Facebook accepts they publish the media, they will be required to regulate it, and that becomes a huge issue. With the European Commission, the legislative arm of the European Union, already looking to introduce legislation aimed at forcing Facebook into taking responsibility for the content they put in front of their users through their feeds, Watch will only make the company’s defense against that even more difficult.

The Future?

So, what does it all mean in the long run? Given Facebook itself must be aware of the problematic situation be going through with Watch and still denying it is a publisher, then it would seem that the social media giant is set on dominating video content delivery and the benefits outweigh the issues.

What that means for the future of TV depends on what they do with the platform. As Netflix has shown, content is king, and Facebook certainly has the funds to buy in very attractive content for users, should it gain some valuable exclusives, British Premier League Soccer or Super Bowl global rights for instance, or movie exclusives and such, when combined with the huge user base it really could become the go-to for event TV. The addition of chat is perhaps the key element, for major shows such as Game of Thrones and Walking Dead, much of the popularity has been driven by the conversations that happen around the shows, With Facebook putting everything in one package, it seems the ideal platform for a post Netflix TV consumption audience.

Is Facebook the future of TV then? Not yet, but if anyone can change it, Facebook can.

21 September 2017

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