Facebook′s plan to expand Watch video platform puts broadcasters on notice | News | DW | 15.09.2017
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Facebook's plan to expand Watch video platform puts broadcasters on notice

Fear of Facebook has spread at the International Broadcaster Convention (IBC) in Amsterdam after the social network unveiled plans to expand the reach of its video offering in order to increase its advertising revenues.

A powerful storm in the Netherlands already had many IBC participants rattled, and it's not likely that they felt much better after listening to the opening keynote address.

Facebook product director Daniel Danker, a seasoned media pro, took to the podium in Amsterdam with news that could only inspire fear among traditional media companies. Ever since Facebook launched Watch, its video platform for shows and live content, in the United States in late August, the market has been tightening for established players. Traditional broadcasters are already battling increased competition from YouTube, Netflix and Amazon. And it's the biggest open secret that Apple wants to launch its own offering soon.

The potential threat is clear to television producers: according to Facebook, over 2 billion people are connected on Facebook, more than a billion of which use the social network on a daily basis and check one of the countless Facebook groups at least once a month.

The power of sharing

Niederlande | Facebooks Daniel Danker auf der International Broadcasting Convention (DW/ E. Schuster)

Facebook's Daniel Danker at this year's IBC in Amsterdam

Video is by far the most successful offering on Facebook. "Forty percent of all videos watched on Facebook come from sharing," said Danker. They are especially popular in Facebook groups. This has been recently evidenced by the sheer amount of Hurricane Harvey live videos that have been uploaded. "Live videos are instantaneous, authentic and credible. That's what makes them so successful," Danker said.

Facebook Watch is completely personalized. Facebook posts recommendations for shows and live broadcasts based on usage patterns but also on recommendations from friends, family members or fellow group members. To do this, Facebook uses the power of algorithms, which do not miss a single comment, recommendation or anything friends are watching.

All this data forms the basis of personalized content. The platform aims to motivate as many Facebook friends as possible, wherever they may be, to watch videos together. Be it smartphone, tablet, PC or Smart TV, Facebook is set to replace linear television as the nation's campfire. Many a media maker is getting chills just thinking about it.

Fighting for survival

YouTube logo on an old-fashioned television

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More than just the loss of range is at stake. The Facebook advance could threaten the survival of many television stations – that is what many at IBC fear. Facebook is already one of the unmatched leaders competing for advertising funds but the new video offensive may even poach some of the advertising budgets normally reserved for traditional television.

Facebook is extremely interesting for advertisers because, unlike TV channels, it offers comprehensive user profiles. The data can be used to develop – and add advertising to – formats that are tailored to different target groups. This is exactly the reason why Facebook is trying to alleviate concerns expressed by TV producers: it is also attractive for traditional media to develop new formats for Facebook Watch. "Facebook Watch enables you to reach new, loyal target groups with whom you can get in touch in a completely different way," said Danker.

Social media first?

USA Facebook-Zentrale (DW/C. Chimoy)

Facebook is watching you: The social networking giant's US headquarters

All of this means additional costs, which, according to Facebook, can be covered by advertising or cooperation with sponsors (branded content). The current video selection in the USA shows how difficult it will be for media companies to be successful on Facebook Watch, despite the monetization options. Very few established broadcasters have taken part so far. 

But on Facebook Watch, you can watch a show, for example, on the Spanish soccer team Real Madrid. Real has 100 million Facebook fans, making it a social media giant with no need to supply traditional media with material – especially free content. Instead, Real provides its own community with exclusive content, and other soccer clubs are already following suit.

Broadcasters better gear up for the new competition. The storm over the North Sea may have ebbed away, but in Amsterdam, everyone knows that traditional television producers will continue to face a stiff breeze for a long time to come.

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