Facebook has 185 million daily active users in the U.S. and Canada. The company has been trying for more than a year to turn them into daily viewers of long-form, TV-style video — but so far, its efforts have been underwhelming.
Last Friday, Facebook launched every episode of cult classic “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and two other Joss Whedon shows — “Angel” and “Firefly” — on Facebook Watch, its platform for episodic video, for free to U.S. users.
One week in, the trio of shows had generated around 949,00 views (598,000 for “Buffy,” 205,000 for “Angel,” and 146,000 for “Firefly”). Nearly half the total was for one episode: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” season 1, episode 1, which had 433,000 views.
So, not really a slay. However you look at it, those aren’t the kind of TV-level numbers that Facebook execs have hoped for with the Watch strategy. (Company reps didn’t respond to a request for comment.)
Why the tepid turnout? For one thing, the trio of shows aired on TV more than 15 years ago. Also, they’re not exclusive to Facebook: All seasons of “Buffy,” “Angel” and “Firefly” are available on Hulu’s subscription service, so superfans have already been able to binge-watch them.
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To be fair, it’s only been seven days. But the weak numbers don’t do anything to support Facebook’s hypothesis that “Buffy” and the other shows would find big audiences through its Watch Party co-viewing feature, which lets users stream (and comment) as they watch together in real-time. Apart from the very first episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Facebook users didn’t engage much with the three shows, licensed under a pact with 20th Century Fox Television. That’s even with a plug from “Buffy” star Sarah Michelle Gellar (nearly 1 million Facebook followers) touting the social-viewing Watch Party feature.
To be sure, a few Facebook Watch original series have seen traction since the social-media player first launched Watch in the U.S. in August 2017.
Jada Pinkett Smith’s “Red Table Talk” talk show has 4.2 million followers, with 234 million views across 17 episodes so far. “Ball in the Family,” the reality show from Bunim-Murray Productions about LaVar Ball’s family of hoopsters, has been viewed by more than 13 million users, with 71% of those under the age of 35. Episodes from season 3 have been over 21,000 times and have racked up more than 17,000 comments. (“Ball in the Family” is returning for a 24-episode fourth season on Facebook Watch premiering Sunday, Dec. 9.)
But if Facebook’s early results for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and the other two shows are an indication, traditional TV series — even those with large, nostalgic fanbases — just aren’t a draw on Facebook.
That’s in contrast to, say, Netflix — which is investing billions in streaming content and earlier this week announced a deal with WarnerMedia for rights to another year of “Friends” for what the New York Times reported was $100 million. (Industry sources say the actual price tag is lower, though still well more than $30 million per year under the previous pact.)
The bottom line: People use Facebook to see what their friends are up to and what’s happening in the world. They aren’t clicking on the app with the intention to watch a TV show — for that, they use Netflix, Hulu, Amazon or other video-focused services. It remains a structural roadblock for Facebook in its efforts to monetize longer-form video entertainment, which it may not be able to fully overcome regardless of what it throws at Facebook Watch.