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What Facebook Watch Should Do Next Now That It’s Trying Subscription TV

Opinion: Facebook should consider adding live feeds from free TV to Watch

Facebook might be about to save free TV.

With the news that the social network is dusting off plans to trial selling subscription services through Facebook Watch (á la Roku, Amazon, Apple etc.), and also plans to release their own streaming device, Facebook is demonstrating it has its eyes on new video revenue streams. 

Should this prove successful, it’s highly unlikely that the platform would stop there. With 187 million daily users in the US & Canada (and 244 million using monthly), it dwarves the 31 million homes using the Roku platform, or the 34 million homes using Amazon Fire at least once a month to access video.

With scale like that, advertisers would be chomping at the bit to utilize it for what is still one of the most efficient ways to reach an audience en masse: linear channels.

Facebook is demonstrating serious intent to chase after all available ad dollars and meet the need of marketers. The next step is offering live TV feeds like rival online video distributors Pluto TV, Roku Channel, Amazon Fire and STIRR (note: entirely different than the livestreaming capabilities Facebook users enjoy but have really only brought controversy to the platform).

If Facebook isn’t strongly considering offering live feeds of over the air stations like Stadium, Buzzr, MEtv and Bounce, they should. Likewise, owners of free-to-air diginets and online linear video streams, such as CBSN or Cheddar, should be sending out feelers to Facebook. Being offered on Facebook Watch could considerably boost their own audiences. 

For diginets not yet included on a free ad-supported TV (a.k.a. FAST) platform, inclusion on Watch would also combat the recent audience growth seen on online FAST services. These platforms may lack some of the higher-profile syndicated shows the larger diginets offer, but make up for it with sheer accessibility and interface. 

The coming introduction of 5G networks to America will also aid this concept. Being able to watch a live stream in high quality and with zero buffering would aid consumer adoption. The growth of Pluto TV et al shows that viewers will watch free TV, even of lower quality, if it is easily available to them and presented well. Facebook offers a means of reaching more viewers than most, if not all, diginet and FAST services currently can, so for networks looking to boost audience numbers, it’s a no-brainer.

It wouldn’t be altruism in Facebook’s part to become a free TV distributor. It has been reported that Roku and Amazon Fire takes between 20%-30% of the ad inventory for live video on their platforms. With digital TV revenues reported by Magna Global to grow by 39% to $3.8 billion by the end of this year (and forecast to grow to $5 billion by the end of 2020), grabbing a slice of that pie will be motivating Facebook’s execs.

It’s not just the scale that Facebook’s social network offers. With Facebook owning Instagram and WhatsApp, services with a higher reach among younger audiences than Facebook itself, it’s not hard to imagine a reconfiguration of IGTV along similar lines to provide the younger demos advertisers covet with access to free live TV.

Facebook has been struggling to get a real toehold in the online video game. Figures such as 50 million users in the US are watching at least 60 seconds of content a month on Watch hardly set the pulse racing. Their slate of originals on Watch may have some dedicated fans, but none have broken out and set the world on fire.

Adapting Facebook Watch into a live TV distribution platform would see Facebook instantly rise to the top of online TV platforms. It would also help to transform how we watch TV; imagine being able to watch a live feed and decorate it with virtual stickers or tag friends as can be done with Facebook or Instagram Stories. 

A world where going onto Facebook and being able to watch feeds from networks such as Ion and CBSN, together with popular FAST feeds, will boost the revenues for all partners involved. TV would become more accessible. Live viewing would increase (measurement for this is another story). 

That’s why we shouldn’t be surprised when Facebook announces this in six months or a year’s time. Thanks to services like Pluto, free live TV is already cool again. Facebook can take it mainstream.

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