Opinion

Is Facebook Watch really the answer to monetising video content?

Today Facebook launches its video on demand platform, Watch. With all the positive rhetoric surrounding the move, Zoe Samios asks, is it really for the benefit of publishers?

The relationship between Facebook and publishers has not been easy. Over the years, small and large publishers alike have spoken about the struggles with over-reliance on the platform, disdain at a de-prioritisation of content in the news feed, and a pivot away from the off-platform tech giant.

They’ve also lamented the failure of Instant Articles, with some describing the return as ‘woeful’.

However, slowly, Facebook began to turn on the charm. Why? Because as much as it doesn’t like to admit it, it’s dependent on publishers to build its ecosystem.

This week Facebook began working on a tool which will help boost publishers’ reach. And today, the platform announced the global launch of Facebook Watch – an on-demand service – which, should it succeed, will become a rival to broadcasters.

And at the same time, Facebook is rolling out its Ad Breaks program, which will allow publishers to insert short breaks – up to 15 seconds in length – during live a video. During the break, viewers will see an in-stream ad, and the publisher will earn a share of the resulting ad revenue.

On the surface it seems beneficial: the tech giant will share the revenue with the publisher in a 55% to 45% split in the publisher’s favour.

These developments are a step, but the path to monetisation is still long.

On platform, off platform, on platform, off platform. It’s been a tough decade for publishers, which have had to look to other ways to monetise content, due to decreased print advertising spend.

In that time, a number have leapt to tech giants like Facebook, in a bid to boost traffic and hopefully monetise it.

Over-reliance on Facebook isn’t in the best interests of the publisher.

When Facebook launched Instant Articles in 2015, it seemed like a great idea. It promised faster load times for news stories and interactive features, and was said to provide publishers with a number of new features for stories.

However just two years in, publishers began to pull out, citing poor revenue generated from the platform.

See, it doesn’t matter how many times Facebook invents something new. It is always on Facebook’s terms. The publishers are expected to work with them, or leave the platform.

And while Facebook has today announced it will give publishers 55% of revenue for their own content, the split still doesn’t feel fair.

I asked Facebook how the split of share worked, including whether they would charge more for videos which were cut from expensive productions.

Here’s the response: “Publishers and creators in the test can insert breaks for ads in their videos on Facebook and earn a share (55%) of the resulting ad revenue (FB keeps 45%). This is a global initiative.”

Mumbrella asked Facebook whether publishers will need to customise the video for the platform or whether the Facebook team will help place the ads.

Here’s the response: “Publishers can choose to insert ads themselves or use an auto-insert function. Ad formats include mid-rolls and in some cases pre-rolls. Publishers can also elect to have ads inserted into eligible videos in their back catalogue.”

The other thing to consider is Facebook’s dwell time. As a consumer, I don’t spend much time on particular articles or videos in my feed. Publishers can only make money by serving ads inside videos that are at least three minutes long and the ad doesn’t show up until after the first minute.

If the ad can’t show until the first minute, that makes it incredibly hard for publishers to monetise the video. And what about those companies which make sizeable investments in television production and are pushing out three-minute videos through Facebook Watch. Do they get the same return as a cat video uploaded from a blog?

The likes of Buzzfeed also have strong video-led strategies. Will they get the same return for their efforts?

A piece in Digiday last year suggested that the return wasn’t viable for a lot of publishers which were trialling Facebook Watch in the US.

Eligible pages for Ad Breaks only include those which have created three-minute videos which have generated more than 30,000 one-minute views in the past two months, and have over 10,000 Facebook followers. They also must meet Facebook’s Monetisation Eligibility Standards.

By comparison, to advertise on YouTube, creators must have 4,000 hours of overall watch time on their channel within the past 12 months andhave at least 1,000 subscribers.

Mumbrella asked a number of publishers what their thoughts were. For the most part, they said it was a “good start”.

Don’t get me wrong, the launch of Facebook Watch and the Ad Breaks program is a first step to monetising content, and it is clear the publishers think so too.

But with Facebook’s global head of news partnerships, Campbell Brown, joking about ‘holding hands’ with a ‘dying business like a hospice’, I’d be wary before jumping into another Facebook innovation.

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