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Facebook Renews Four Original Series Including ‘Sorry for Your Loss,’ Claims 75 Million Daily ‘Watch’ Viewers

Facebook is trying to make the case that premium, long-form video entertainment — with the right themes and formats — can draw big and engaged audiences on its Facebook Watch platform.

The social giant has renewed a set of four original series for second seasons: Kerry Washington’s drama “Five Points”; influencer Huda Kattan’s reality show “Huda Boss”; fairy-tale-inspired anthology series “Sacred Lies”; and drama “Sorry For Your Loss” starring Elizabeth Olsen.

Facebook also is touting momentum for Watch since expanding it worldwide in August; Facebook Watch launched in August 2017 in the U.S. Currently, more than 400 million users globally spend at least one minute on Watch, up from 50 million in the U.S. just prior to the worldwide rollout.

On a daily basis, over 75 million Facebook users spend at least one minute on Watch, and on average they spend more than 20 minutes streaming video on Facebook Watch, according to the company. (These are Facebook-reported numbers, which aren’t independently verified.)

“The reason we created Facebook Watch was to invent what entertainment could look like when you put people at the center,” said Fidji Simo, head of video for Facebook. “That’s what is driving a lot of our content strategy, and the renewals are driven by a large part by the fact that they’ve created large communities.”

Of course, 75 million would be just 5% of Facebook’s massive base of 1.5 billion daily active users. But to Facebook execs, that highlights the opportunity ahead for professionally produced content on Watch. Starting this week, Facebook Watch is now globally available on desktop and Facebook Lite after initially launching overseas just on the Facebook mobile app.

Facebook has funded “dozens” of original productions to date and will continue to invest in more content in 2019, including internationally, said Ricky Van Veen, Facebook’s head of global creative strategy. That includes a “Real World” reboot with MTV Studios and Bunim/Murray Productions with local versions in the U.S., Mexico and Thailand set to debut next spring. It’s also developing talent-competitions series, including interactive competition series “World’s Most Amazing Dog.”

“We are going to be doubling down on what’s working,” said Van Veen, who oversees the 19-member team that commissions original scripted and unscripted programming.

That said, the long-term goal is still to turn Facebook Watch into a service fully fed by third-party creators and partners, who get a cut of ad revenue, Simo said. “It’s never been our goal for this to be a business in and of itself,” she said. “It’s to learn as fast as possible to find out what kinds of content do what we want it to do — connecting with an audience and helping them engage.”

By Facebook standards, the pages of the four shows renewed for second seasons have modest followings: “Huda Boss” has 417,000 followers, “Five Points” has 399,000, “Sacred Lies” has 343,000 and “Sorry For Your Loss” has 146,000.

But the company doesn’t look at just views or audience size. In deciding what to renew for Facebook Watch, Van Veen and his team focus on the community-building results of a show: “There’s no single number we are looking for to say, ‘This has been a success.'”

The four shows have a basic thread connecting them, according to Van Veen: “They’re better because they’re on Facebook. It sounds cliché but Facebook is a social network — so having that social element to it, igniting the conversation, building a community around the show, is key.”

For example, “Sorry For Your Loss,” a critically acclaimed half-hour drama about a young widow struggling after her husband’s death, has the most loyal fans of any Facebook Watch show. That means the 10-episode first season has the highest percentage of viewers who have watched (to 75% completion) at least three episodes of a show. “It deals with grief, which is pretty taboo, but it approaches the topic in a subtle and creative way,” Simo said.

“Sorry For Your Loss” stars Elizabeth Olsen (pictured above) as struggling widow Leigh Shaw, alongside Kelly Marie Tran, Mamoudou Athie, Jovan Adepo and Janet McTeer.

“Seeing our audience embrace and champion ‘Sorry For Your Loss’ and reading the comments and posts from people who feel seen and understood watching our show, has been one of the most meaningful experiences of my life,” Kit Steinkellner, the show’s creator and executive producer, said in a statement. “Sorry For Your Loss” is produced by Big Beach TV.

“Sacred Lies,” based on the YA novel “The Sacred Lives of Minnow Bly” by Stephanie Oakes, will return in season 2 with episodes inspired by a new Grimm tale, “The Singing Bone.” The show is from creator-showrunner Raelle Tucker (“True Blood,” “Jessica Jones”) and produced by Blumhouse Television. Tucker, commenting on the response to season one, said: “I have never seen thousands and thousands of people come together on the internet in such a harmonious, celebratory and positive way.”

“Five Points,” from executive producer Kerry Washington, is a high-school drama set on Chicago’s South Side told from the perspectives of five different teens. “We’re looking forward to bringing audiences back to ‘Five Points’ for new surprises, relationships and drama,” said Jon Avnet, co-founder of Indigenous Media, which produces the show. “Huda Boss,” produced by Shed Media, follows the life of beauty influencer/entrepreneur Huda Kattan.

Overall, the most-followed Facebook Watch show is Jada Pinkett Smith’s “Red Table Talk” talk show (4.3 million followers), which also has the most active related Facebook Group (440,000 members). The show with the most comments is interactive trivia game show “Confetti” that doles out cash prizes (a la HQ Trivia); that’s expanded beyond the U.S. to include versions in the U.K., Mexico and the Philippines. Facebook Watch’s most-viewed episode to date is Mike Rowe’s “Returning the Favor” segment “Operation Combat Bikesaver,” which has 41 million views to date.

Facebook says its lineup of Watch shows is designed to appeal to a range of demographics, including younger audiences. For “Ball in the Family,” the Bunim/Murray reality show about LaVar Ball’s basketball family, 71% of viewers are under the age of 35, while “Huda Boss” skews toward women 18-24, according to Van Veen.

The company also is trying to boost Watch viewing through live-streaming sports deals and licensed TV content. Earlier this month Facebook launched every episode of Joss Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel” and “Firefly” in the U.S., hoping to bring a social-viewing element to the shows’ fans; but those drew a tepid response in their first week.

Facebook Watch content has included ad breaks in five countries (U.S., U.K., Ireland, New Zealand and Australia) and those are now available to eligible Facebook Watch Pages in 40 countries. It’s still early on monetization, Simo said, but she said that 70% of ad breaks served in Watch shows are viewed to completion. In September, Facebook rolled out In-Stream Reserve, letting advertisers target ads to run against premium Watch content, and Simo said in 2019 it will expand to offer additional targeting options.

Facebook also is banking on Watch Party, its co-viewing feature that lets users watch and comment on videos together, to drive up engagement and views. To date, Facebook users have created 12 million Watch Parties in groups.

Van Veen said the biggest surprise to him has been how long people are willing to watch a show on Facebook. “The conventional wisdom was, people won’t watch anything over a minute,” he said. For “Ball in the Family,” one of the top fan requests was for episodes to be longer than their preivous roughly 15-minute length; Van Veen said Facebook told Bunim-Murray midseason to make them longer, now coming in around 24 minutes each.

Pictured above: Elizabeth Olsen in “Sorry For Your Loss” season one

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