Oct 15, 2015

Is Facebook The New YouTube?

Originally published at TDG Research on October 15, 2015

News reports this week indicate that Facebook is beta testing a new Video tab on its mobile app. That’s not surprising, given Facebook’s emphasis on video over the past year – a push that has seen the number of daily video views on the platform go from one to four billion (from September 2014 to May 2015).This is a huge leap, and it’s likely to go much higher still.

So is Facebook going to unseat YouTube? What about the TV networks? Or Netflix and Hulu?

Facebook is well-positioned to take a sizable share of the video market. It serves up video using a very different system than YouTube, making it an attractive alternative to many people. Add to this the strong likelihood that it will start showing video from TV networks (clips or full shows), and you have a strong case for Facebook’s growing dominance in video.

Different User Experiences
Viewers are still, for the most part, finding YouTube videos via search or from an external site link. Once selected, the video plays on its own page, with a list of similar videos on the side. Immediately after the selected video ends, an auto-play feature plays a similar video. But, since many (if not most) users are not logged in, the site has no real data from which to pull, making its recommendations spotty at best.

Facebook’s recommendations, however, are anything but random. They are served up by the Mighty Algorithm. This allows the site to make recommendations based on what individual users might actually want to watch. Gone may be the real sense of boundless discovery found on YouTube, but with Facebook video, you can at least count on the content being of interest to you. For many people this is the ideal experience. They have no desire to browse through YouTube looking for hidden gems, and are happy just to lean back and enjoy whatever videos Facebook serves them.

The social platform can rely on the reams of data it has about users: what they like, where they vacation, who their friends are, etc. Further, once users start engaging with Facebook video, the algorithm can factor in what they watched and what they skipped, using that information to make its recommendations even more relevant.

Long Versus Short Form Video
Facebook has two possible paths when it comes to the TV networks. It can provide networks the opportunity to use clips to increase awareness of, and drive tune-in to current TV shows; or it can negotiate the rights to older seasons’ episodes in a bid to compete with Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu.
Option one makes Facebook an attractive venue for networks to promote current shows or, better still, to have users do the promoting for them. Given the very nature of Facebook, users are far more likely to share a short clip of Jimmy Fallon’s monologue than an entire episode of the Tonight Show. This is why Facebook might be the ideal home for “snackable” video content, i.e., short clips of 10 minutes or less. The shorter format would allow users to share something new with friends without taking too much time away from other activities on the platform.

It is also possible that Facebook might want to go long. The company could line up content deals that would put it in head-to-head competition with Netflix as the OTT operator of choice for the networks’ older seasons. This would certainly appeal to networks, providing them with a (delightfully) rich trove of data about the people who watch their shows. It would also give them pause, since that data would ultimately be owned by Facebook.

That said, we think Facebook will choose to go the clip route. This would give them the same amount of data, without the financial commitment of licensing full-length shows. Users come to Facebook to interact, so sending them off to watch hours of video seems contrary to the sort of use case Facebook desires.

You can read more about Facebook and Social TV in my report on Social TV, coming soon.

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