Facebook Leans on Local Creators to Grow Watch and Hit New Target Areas

As Facebook leans into sports, non-scripted and select scripted properties, it’s increasingly looking to an army of creators rather than A-list celebrities to tap into all three target areas as they grow businesses on the Watch platform.

Facebook’s newly appointed head of entertainment media partnerships for Northern Europe Anna Higgs tells Variety, “The Watch strategy is about timely, culturally relevant content that can draw in a community, and creators exhibit those pillars really well. They are one of the strongest ways to pull people together around exciting video content.”

The social media giant will again play a prominent role at fan conference VidCon London, which takes place at the ExCel Centre from Feb. 20-23, and where Higgs will engage in a fireside chat with creators Mark and Roxanne Hoyle of lifestyle duo LadBaby. The firm will also offer a creator workshop discussing its latest products and tools, as well as a Facebook and Instagram Creator Lounge for networking.

While Facebook relies on “big tentpoles” such as the Emmy-winning talk show “Red Table Talk” hosted by Jada Pinkett Smith – who recently re-upped her contract through to 2022 – local creators such as British family LadBaby, who signed with WME and Margravine Management in October, are being championed as a way to check the boxes around interactive scripted and non-scripted content.

“We don’t have to commission shows for (Watch) to be a huge success. Creators like LadBaby are making shows and we can support them to make them fly even higher,” says Higgs.

She adds, “What we’ve seen from (Pinkett Smith) is content that is highly engaging, but also has many of the qualities that LadBaby has, which is people talking about real-life issues. Ultimately, it has authenticity and it’s personality-led so it…builds a community around that work.”

It’s no accident that LadBaby, in particular, has been selected for Facebook’s VidCon keynote with Higgs.

Last year, the couple released a Christmas charity single titled “I Love Sausage Rolls” that garnered 4.8 million views on Watch, which served as the top referral source for downloads, capturing 77% of traffic.

But perhaps more impressive is that the single soon hit number one in the U.K. charts over Christmas, and coupled with their success with last year’s number one “We Built This City On Sausage Rolls,” LadBaby is the third act ever to achieve back-to-back Christmas number one’s in the U.K., following The Beatles and Spice Girls.

Higgs points to the stunning success of “I Love Sausage Rolls” – a play on Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll” – as an example of how Facebook was “able to support LadBaby to engage its community.”

Mark Hoyle, who describes himself as a “lad who had a baby,” and partner Roxanne have nurtured a following of more than four million on Facebook, while the platform’s premium-tier fan subscription group, which provides early access and exclusive regular programming for a monthly fee, is also gaining momentum.

“The fan subscriptions have done really well, and we have almost managed to make a business from it,” says Hoyle, who gave up his full-time graphic design job six months ago to focus on LadBaby, which is now providing a regular income via Facebook.

Variety has confirmed that monetization tools will remain the same throughout 2020, meaning creators can continue to rely on in-stream ads – of which 45% of revenues go to Facebook – as well as fan subscriptions and brand collaborations.

As for how the platform will look to grow its creator community, Higgs, a former NOWNESS creative director and head of digital for Film4, says there are no “specific numerical targets” on growth, but admits there is a “tightly managed partner set” in place.

“There is a level of scale of partners that we can look after with quality and purpose,” she says.

However, the platform is “self-serving in lots of ways” and there are ways to “look after emerging creators as they start to come up through the platform.” At VidCon, Facebook’s key mission will be locating the next generation of creator voices for the platform and fostering a community around its existing brands.

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