You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Facebook Watch Chief Talks Early Lessons From Video Push, Unveils Three New Shows

MIAMI — Every original program that lands on the Facebook Watch platform should spark its own Facebook community. That’s the mantra from Ricky Van Veen, who oversees Facebook’s ambitious foray into video in his role as head of global creative strategy for the social media giant.

Van Veen spoke Tuesday at the NATPE conference, detailing strategy and early lessons from Facebook’s fledging effort to become a provider of original entertainment content — or what he called “planned viewing of video.”

“A show should activate a community — a psychographic or demographic or affinity group or a new community formed around a show,” Van Veen said. “The most important aspect of Watch is that social element. … There’s just so much you can do when you have content and conversation happening at scale on the same platform.”

Van Veen unveiled three new series projects, including a new survivalist effort from Bear Grylls, “Bear Grylls: Face the Wild.” Also in the works is the scripted half-hour drama “Sacred Lies” from Blumhouse Television, and the unscripted “Fly Guys,” revolving around movie and TV stunt performers.

Van Veen made it clear Facebook is not rushing into the $10 million-an-episode drama series business. They’re taking a methodical and so far low-key approach to discovering the kinds of content that works best on its air. The big push into video began about four months ago, he said. But Facebook knows its limits.

“We’re not going to win by competing in prestige hourlong dramas. There are many people who do that well,” he said during a Q&A with moderator Rich Greenfield of BTIG Research. “What’s going to differentiate us is that show that uses the social fabric of Facebook.”

Van Veen said the ability for Facebook users to see what shows their friends are watching and receive recommendations is monumental for their effort. You won’t see Facebook spending a lot of money on off-platform marketing any time soon, he said.

“Right now the idea is to do the best shows we can and let the shows be the promotional engine to drive the (Watch) platform,” he said. “The newsfeed may be the best tool for recruiting audiences that’s ever been invented.”

Among other highlights of the session:

Most of Facebook Watch viewing is done via mobile devices. Despite the conventional wisdom, millennials will watch long-form video. For a typical 20-minute episode, the average Watch viewer screens at least 17 minutes, Van Veen said. The Silicon Valley thinking of “shorter is better” when it comes to Internet video “just didn’t pan out,” he said. “One of the most frequent comments (on Facebook Watch series) was ‘I want this show to be longer.’ “

The Facebook Watchlist function “is like a DVR but for Facebook. It allows publishers a more direct relationship with the audience,” Van Veen said. Watchlist gives users a place to aggregate their shows and also receive more deep-dive information and related content.

Facebook Watch does have a few things in common with traditional networks. For one, scheduling matters. “The time of day you publish and the day of week matters. Having that regular cadence allows people to build up a habit,” Van Veen said. “We want people to start using Facebook in a new way.”

“Ball in the Family,” a reality series following basketball entrepreneur LaVar Ball, is one of Watch’s most-watched shows. It drove Facebook to acquire live streaming rights to Lithuanian pro basketball games because members of the Ball family joined the league. The games have drawn upwards of 100,000 viewers at a time via Facebook Live. “The lesson is that you can find different formats to engage an audience outside of the core video on demand,” Van Veen said.

Van Veen cited Mike Rowe (“Returning the Favor”), NFL star Tom Brady (“Tom Versus Time”), and actress Kerry Washington (“Five Points”) as personalities who are expertly leveraging their Facebook followings into viewership for Facebook Watch series. “Facebook allows the conversation to continue after the episode airs,” he said.

Don’t expect to find an old-fashioned procedural drama on Facebook Watch — not enough fan engagement during and after each episode. “We’re not going after content that drives passive viewership,” he said. At the same time, the idea of allowing a “choose your own adventure” function for viewers to craft their own storylines does not seem practical for many shows, he said. “The dangerous place you can get it is where you’re neither fish nor fowl,” he said.

More TV

  • MMA Alters Faces of Asia Sports

    MMA Alters Faces of Asian Sports Broadcasting

    Bruce Lee was ahead of the curve by about four decades when he predicted back in the early 1970s that combat sports would one day take the world by storm. Hong Kong’s favorite son had encouraged his own students to mix up the styles of martial arts they were being trained in — to combine kung fu [...]

  • Variety Kit Harington Game of Thrones

    Kit Harington on How 'Game of Thrones' Mirrors Real-World Politics

    In Variety‘s March 19 cover story, Kit Harington opens up about the final season of “Game of Thrones” and growing into adulthood as part of the biggest show on television. In a conversation in London in December, Harington opened up about the similarities between the series’ politics and our own. “I think it’s always been about [...]

  • Chris O'Dowd

    TV News Roundup: Chris O'Dowd to Star in 'Twilight Zone' Episode

    In today’s roundup, The CW has released two clips from the upcoming “Riverdale” special “Heathers: The Musical,” and Chris O’Dowd will star in an episode of “The Twilight Zone.”  CASTING Chris O’Dowd will star in CBS All Access’ rebooted “The Twilight Zone” episode titled “The Blue Scorpion.” The series will premiere with two episodes on [...]

  • Kevin Tsujihara

    Kevin Tsujihara's Ouster Kicks Off a Week of Major Disruption in the Media Business

    The sudden ouster of Warner Bros. Entertainment chief Kevin Tsujihara kicked off what is likely to go down as one of the most extraordinary weeks in Hollywood history, spelling enormous turmoil and transition across the media landscape. In addition to the news about Tsujihara, which comes amid a wider shake-up of leadership at AT&T’s WarnerMedia, [...]

  • Wendy Williams Sober Living House

    Wendy Williams Reveals She's Been Staying in a Sober-Living House

    Wendy Williams, during an emotional monologue on her talk show on Tuesday, revealed through tears that she has been staying at a sober-living house. “So you know me for being a very open and truthful person,” she began the segment on “The Wendy Williams Show,” fighting through tears. “And I’ve got more to the story [...]

  • Hong Kong Industry Executives Seek Clarity

    FilMart: Hong Kong Industry Executives Plead for Clarity on Mainland Chinese Tax Policies

    At a time of heightened scrutiny of tax affairs in China’s entertainment sector, even industry veterans in Hong Kong are struggling to figure out how to operate in the new financial environment and pleading for more clarity from the Chinese government. Hong Kong produces about 60 films a year, three-quarters of which are typically co-productions [...]

  • Michael Jackson R Kelly

    'Leaving Neverland,' 'Surviving R. Kelly' Composers on How They Scored Sexual Abuse Docs

    How do you put music to child sexual abuse — especially if the accused predators are musical icons? That’s the challenge composers Chad Hobson and Nathan Matthew David faced as they scored HBO’s “Leaving Neverland” and Lifetime’s “Surviving R. Kelly,” respectively. The documentaries are built around interviews with the alleged victims of Michael Jackson (two [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content