Facebook has now thrown open the doors to Watch, its new video aggregation and discovery feature, to all users in the U.S. In Watch, they’ll be able to find, view, follow and comment on hundreds of episodic series — from a broad range of creators and media companies.
Dan Rose, Facebook’s VP of partnerships, spoke with Variety about the social-media company’s strategy and goals for the initiative. An edited transcript follows:
So what is Facebook launching?
By the end of this week, hundreds of shows will be on Watch — then thousands will blossom really soon. It’s going to be available broadly in the U.S., then internationally over time.
What’s the goal of Watch?
If you look at the history of the product, the pivotal moment for this was when Mark [Zuckerberg] published his community newsletter earlier this year. It was a vision for Facebook and the role we can play in the world. Internally, it was directed to our product road map and inspired our teams to think about their products through the lens of community.
How is Watch a different approach to video for Facebook?
We’ve been doing a lot in video on Facebook for a while, and video in News Feed has been a big deal. The team was thinking about what a dedicated video experience could look like, and what Facebook could do that would be unique. What you’ll find in Watch is different from the video you find in News Feed. It’s built from the ground up from this notion of community.
What do you mean by shows built for “community”?
One, they’re shows you want to engage in with your friends and family, or co-workers. Historically, it’s the kind of content you talk about around the watercooler. Two, they’re shows you want to engage in with other fans, like the way people do with sports — shows that capture the zeitgeist. Once we had a clear vision for it from a content perspective, we partnered with creators who could create content through the community lens.
Facebook has funded some of the shows. How did you pick which ones to invest in?
Obviously, creating premium episodic content is expensive. Until we have a large enough audience – so the advertising revenue can cover the cost of creative — we helped fund some of them, so people see something when they go to Watch. Also, we wanted to inspire creators for what we think will work well for this product, to show the larger ecosystem what’s possible. The show with Mike Rowe [“Returning the Favor”], which has a real community focus, that was easy. World Surf League, which already has passionate community, is a perfect partnership. And the show with LaVar Ball [“Ball in the Family”] — that family has created a lot of conversation and interest.
Why not just license existing TV shows for Watch? There’s a lot of conversation on Facebook about television already. [Facebook has picked up at least one canceled TV show: Nicole Byers’ comedy “Loosely Exactly Nicole,” which aired for one season on MTV last year.]
So, one of the early indicators that there was an opportunity for Facebook to play in this space was people talking with their friends about TV shows on Facebook. We see that every day. The thing we think is unique about Watch is, it’s designed for content you are watching and talking about on the same screen. For that, we think the type of content that will work well is shorter than what you are used to seeing on television, but longer than what you see on News Feed. We’re going to experiment, and our partners are going to be experimenting.
How long are the shows in Watch? Is there a preset length requirement?
There’s no minimum length requirement per episode. Nas Daily [one of the creators with a Watch show], he publishes one motivational video per day and he does 60-second videos. Then we are showing one Major League Baseball game every Friday night. There will be lots of different lengths. We won’t prescribe a certain length. The only requirement is the idea that it’s recurring — it’s episodic… We’ll see where the sweet spot is, how long people want the episodes to be. Our hypothesis is it will be in that 10-minute environment.
And anyone will be able to publish shows for Facebook’s Watch platform?
The content approach is very much an open, platform ecosystem approach. Anybody is going to be able to create shows for Watch, as long as they meet our community guidelines. [Facebook has an application for creators to pitch shows at this link.] Our belief and hope is there will be a huge ecosystem of creators, who will be able to share in revenue from ad breaks. The idea is: Over time, this will be completely open. The teenager in her garage will be able to participate in this.
What’s going to draw content creators to the Watch platform?
Creators are going to be motivated if they think there’s a large audience they can tap into. Users will go to Watch if they can get great content they can’t watch anywhere else.
And the shows in Watch are exclusively available on Facebook?
We believe the best content that will work well on Facebook will work there better than any other environment. We think there will be natural exclusivity around that. Mike Rowe, he’s choosing where to go based on what his fans on Facebook are telling him, so a lot of this is interaction between community and content. Obviously, though, if we’re funding the content we want to be exclusive to us for a period of time.
How long will those shows be exclusive to Facebook?
We’re not talking about specifics.
Will shows in Watch be promoted in News Feed?
When a creator publishes an episode of a show, it will be eligible to show up in News Feed. If it’s relevant, we’ll surface it there. But Watch is really designed to let fans find new shows and follow individual shows, and get notified about new episodes.
Will the content be screened for potential copyright infringement?
We have a robust rights-management tool already. That’s from the investment in video on Facebook and Instagram, and we are continuing to invest more in rights management.