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Facebook Seeks to Rev Up Watch Platform, Sets ‘Real World’ Reboot

CANNES — Facebook hopes to amp up the Facebook Watch video platform by opening it up to outside content producers and partnering with MTV on a relaunch of “The Real World” for the global social media generation.

Facebook unveiled the “Real World” reboot with MTV Studios and Bunim/Murray Productions as part of a broader overview of its plans for Watch offered Wednesday in a presentation at Mipcom from Matthew Henick, Facebook’s head of content planning and strategy, and Paresh Rajwat, head of video products. MTV president Chris McCarthy was a surprise guest at the session.

As Facebook expands the Watch platform outside the U.S., the company is focused on promoting it as a distribution platform to outside entities, beyond the original programs that Facebook itself licenses for Watch. Content creators and publishers can use Watch to launch shows and share in advertising revenue through Facebook’s Ad Breaks revenue-sharing system of inserting commercial spots in videos.

“As we continue to improve the Watch experience for our partners, we’re deeply committed to giving creators and publishers more opportunities to make money from their videos,” Rajwat said. “Since August, we’ve launched Ad Breaks to eligible Pages in more than 25 countries around the world. We’re continuing to make Ad Breaks available in more countries and in more languages.”

The executives stressed that Facebook Watch would continue to emphasize programs that incorporate social media tools into the fabric of the programming and encourage community-centric viewing. It’s a point of differentiation in a crowded landscape. Facebook launched Watch last year in the U.S. as a “video destination” on the massive social media platform. In August, Facebook rolled it out to the rest of the world. 

“What is unique about Facebook Watch is that it’s built on the notion that watching videos doesn’t have to be a passive experience and can instead connect you with others,” Rajwat said. “Our mission is to enable shared experiences and a sense of belonging through videos.”

Moreover, the executives asserted that Facebook’s goal with its licensed original programming has been to demonstrate how the integration of social tools and functions can be used to develop a new kind of TV viewing experience.

Rajwat said Facebook Watch is drawing more than 50 million people a month who watch at least 1 minute of video on Watch. That’s still a small portion of Facebook’s estimated 1.47 billion daily active users. The execs stressed that Facebook Watch viewing time has increased “by 14 times” since the beginning of the year. They also asserted that Watch viewers spend more time on the platform when they watch with friend groups.

“It’s always been about kickstarting an ecosystem of content,” Henick said. “Our funded content efforts, whether they’re original series or licensing, are meant to be an example of how we want the ecosystem to work. Through funding shows and working with some great partners, we’re learning about what our community enjoys, gather feedback, and inspire others.”

It’s unclear if Facebook’s investment in original series will be pared down with the move to expand it to third-party partners.

“Moving forward, we will continue investing in some original shows to test and learn about new video experiences,” Henick said. “We’ll be looking closely at how people interact with content around the world, and working with our partners to provide guidance based on what we learn.”

“Real World” will be a marquee project for Watch that also dovetails with MTV’s push to refurbish the better-known titles from its library. Produced by MTV Studios and Bunim/Murray Productions, “Real World” will return next spring with three simultaneous editions of the show produced for local audiences in the U.S., Mexico and Thailand.

The durable “Real World” format brings together strangers from different walks of life to live together in a house stocked with cameras. Created by Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jon Murray, the series debuted on MTV in 1992, ushering in the modern era of unscripted primetime television. “Real World” last aired on MTV in 2017, which marked its 32nd season. On the Facebook Watch version, viewers will be able to submit themselves as potential cast members and vote on one housemate to make the final cut.

“MTV’s ‘The Real World’ helped to define a generation and created a new genre of television with a simple yet powerful idea of connecting people from wildly divergent backgrounds to find common ground on the issues that often divided them,” said McCarthy, who joined the Facebook execs at Wednesday’s presentation. “By partnering with Facebook Watch and BMP, we have the opportunity to impact culture and create a new genre of television all over again, while engaging the next generation of content consumers around the world.”

There’s no word yet on the number of episodes for each “Real World” edition. Facebook said it would take a cue from other Facebook Watch series by dropping scenes from the show throughout the week prior to the premiere of a weekly half-hour installment.

Facebook Watch has also teamed with reality TV veterans 3 Ball Entertainment and the animal-centric digital media platform the Dodo to launch “The World’s Most Amazing Dog,” billed as an interactive competition series, with users encouraged to post “audition” clips of their pooches while users are encouraged to vote for their favorites.

Watch also plans to expand its pop culture trivia game show “Confetti” on an international basis.

Henick and Rajwat stressed the importance of simultaneous viewing (or “co-watching” in Facebook parlance) among friend groups as a driver for Facebook Watch. The Watch Party function makes it easier for users connected on Facebook to watch programming together and share second-screen activity such as polls and what Facebook called “gamification” around Watch content.

Facebook Premiere is a feature allowing users to create their own “live” TV moment by rolling out video, whether live or pre-recorded, across their connected friend base.

The executive duo talked up Facebook Watch success stories in Italy, France and parts of Asia, and the growth of brand-name franchises such as the CNN-produced daily offering “Anderson Cooper Full Circle.”

For MTV, the opportunity to reinvent “Real World” with a high-profile partner is in keeping with the larger strategy at Viacom to extend its core brands well beyond the cable TV universe. The newly launched MTV Studios has been growing its roster of productions for MTV and outside networks. The core MTV cable channel has also enjoyed new ratings momentum after a long slump.

“It’s increasingly difficult to break through,” McCarthy said during the Q&A. “As storytellers we have a new role. We have to spark a cultural moment.”

McCarthy said the U.S., Thailand and Mexico were selected as sites for “Real World” because they represent vastly different cultures. That’s in keeping with “Real World’s” ethos of exposing viewers to new subcultures. And he’s already hoping for additional seasons beyond the three on deck.

“If we do our jobs right we’ll hopefully be able to expand to more and more locations,” McCarthy said.

(Pictured: 2011’s “The Real World: Las Vegas”)

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