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Facebook to Test Selling Premium Video Subscriptions

Facebook is dipping its toes into the subscription VOD waters — as an aggregator and reseller.

The social giant is launching what it’s describing as a small-scale test to sell subscription VOD services directly to users. Initially, the Facebook video subscriptions will be available for four services: BBC and ITV’s BritBox, CollegeHumor’s Dropout, MotorTrend App and Tastemade Plus.

Last year, Facebook had reached out to TV networks including HBO and Showtime about the idea of selling their over-the-top streaming services on the platform. But for now, no traditional television channels are part of the test, nor are big SVOD players like Netflix or Hulu.

Facebook’s video-subscription test with the four initial partners will be available only to users in the U.S. and will be rolling out over the next few weeks.

Facebook will process payments on behalf of the SVOD partners. The company declined to say whether it’s taking a cut of the revenue during the test period and if so, how much. In 2018, Facebook launched a Patreon-like fan-subscription service for creators; starting in January 2020, the company plans to start taking a cut of 30% of the revenue from new subscribers on desktop and up to 15% for subs paying through Apple or Google mobile app stores.

“We’re testing video subscriptions on Facebook, starting with a limited set of partners,” a company rep said in a statement. “We’re excited to bring more of people’s favorite shows and videos to Facebook, where subscribers can enjoy the content together with other fans. We’ll be listening to feedback from our community.”

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In the future, Facebook said, it may add additional partners to the video-subscription platform.

Through Facebook, the subscription prices of each of the services are the same as through other platforms. The Tastemade Plus food-and-lifestyle network is $2.99 per month. Priced at $4.99 per month are both CollegeHumor’s Dropout comedy streaming service and MotorTrend App (run under a joint venture with Discovery), which provides more than 7,000 episodes from car shows including classic episodes of “Top Gear.” BritBox, the U.K. television streaming JV of BBC and ITV, costs $6.99 monthly for a collection of dramas, comedies, soap operas, documentaries and other programming.

Facebook’s strategy — although just a baby step for now — is similar to the SVOD-aggregation play by Amazon and more recently copied by Apple and Roku.

In the U.S., Amazon’s Prime Video Channels lineup of 150-plus services include HBO, Showtime, Starz and CBS All Access, with subscriptions available to Prime members. Roku began reselling premium VOD subscriptions in January and Apple this spring launched an updated Apple TV app that lets users subscribe directly to such channels as HBO, Showtime, Starz, Epix, Tastemade, Sundance Now, CuriosityStream and Comedy Central Now.

Unlike Amazon, Apple or Roku, Facebook doesn’t have a connected-TV device, but it is reportedly prepping to launch such a product this fall that would include access to streaming apps.

Facebook’s video-subscription test is meant to springboard off Watch, the free, ad-supported episodic platform it originally launched two years ago. Watch had 140 million daily users worldwide as of June, with thousands of shows including Facebook-funded originals like Jada Pinkett Smith’s “Red Table Talk” and a reboot of MTV’s “The Real World.”

Part of the theory behind Facebook’s SVOD test is that subscription services with strong fan communities will be able to take advantage of social features to drive engagement. Subscribers will be able to join discussion groups to talk about recent episodes and participate in Facebook’s Watch Parties, which let multiple users watch videos concurrently and chat in real-time.

Tastemade has nearly 31 million followers on its main Facebook page, while IAC’s College Humor has more than 9 million fans and MotorTrend has more than 3 million fans (and its popular show “Roadkill” counts nearly 1.5 million). BritBox has the smallest fanbase of the group with fewer than 200,000 followers.

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