Facebook Watch, the social giant’s two-year-old video streaming platform, has become a massive destination — now attracting over 1.25 billion users each month, the company claims.

The growth of Facebook’s aggregate global video audience, which is tuning in to live events, original shows, sports, news, music videos and user-generated content, is an indicator that it’s becoming an increasingly credible rival to YouTube, which says it has north of 2 billion logged-in visitors per month.

“You don’t reach a billion of anything without focus and providing something of value,” said Matthew Henick, Facebook’s VP of content strategy and planning. “There’s no denying a platform of our size can steer people anywhere temporarily — but what we’re seeing is consistent audience coming to Facebook Watch.”

Added Henick, “Eventually, we’ll get to everyone with a mobile phone.”

The 1.25 billion monthly video-viewer base represents nearly half of Facebook’s 2.7 billion average monthly users as of June 2020.

But it’s unclear how much video people are streaming on Facebook Watch. The company’s 1.25 billion monthly average viewers counts everyone who has streamed as little as 1 minute of video in Facebook Watch. According to a Facebook rep, the video platform’s average minutes spent per viewer is growing — but the company isn’t disclosing what that metric is currently. Facebook last reported in June 2019 that daily users of Facebook Watch spent an average of 26 minutes per day watching video, and that 720 million people monthly used the service.

Still, there’s no denying that Facebook Watch has made significant strides in building out content-discovery and monetization features, along with launching new tools for creators and publishers.

“What we’ve seen the last two years is that this focus on instant entertainment tied to users’ interests lets us provide a really valuable service to users, and by extension creators,” Henick said.

Facebook’s strategy to build an open, global video platform is clearly aimed at challenging the dominance of Google’s YouTube. What makes Facebook Watch different, according to Henick, is that it’s built to support and promote content that drives social interactions. “We feel our real differentiator is the social features,” he said. “It’s just such an amplifier for the content.”

The COVID pandemic has boosted Facebook Watch’s overall usage, with strong growth in livestreaming. The company in particular has seen a surge in viewing of religious and spiritual content, gaming, and fitness content, according to Henick. In the gaming category alone, more than 200 million people watch live videos each month on Facebook, with watch time on Facebook Gaming growing 75% from Q1 to Q2 this year based on watch hours, according to the company.

Just over a month ago, Facebook launched official music videos in the U.S., taking direct aim at a stronghold of YouTube’s viewership. The new music destination in Watch lets users explore music videos by genre, artist or mood, and features themed playlists. Last month, Katy Perry debuted her new music video for “Smile” exclusively on Facebook. Henick said it’s too soon to assess the impact of music videos on overall video traffic, but he said the expectation is that it will be “incremental” overall.

With respect to Facebook Watch’s original programming, led by head of global creative strategy Ricky Van Veen, the strategy remains the same: The company is looking to present tentpole “cultural moments” and acquire shows centered on buzz-worthy personalities — akin to YouTube’s focus on originals. Facebook Watch’s original content has focused on talk shows and reality programming, while sidelining scripted shows.

“We have seen a tremendous amount of upside in pairing really big talent with big topics,” said Henick, who reports to Nick Grudin, Facebook’s VP of media partnerships.

The originals lineup includes Jada Pinkett Smith’s “Red Table Talk,” which has become a cultural phenomenon; “Steve on Watch,” the daily show hosted by comedian Steve Harvey recently renewed for a second season; and talent-driven docu-series like “The Biebers on Watch,” featuring home-shot video by Justin and Hailey Bieber, and “Returning the Favor” with Mike Rowe.

Launching in October on Facebook Watch is “Red Table Talk: The Estefans” from Westbrook Studios, a spinoff of Pinkett Smith’s original format. That will bring together singer Gloria Estefan, her niece Lily and daughter Emily for intimate chats “with no topics off-limits,” according to producers.

Facebook Watch Originals in the “cultural moments” bucket are engineered to gather communities around a common interest on a large scale, according to Henick. Recent events have included “Change Together: From the March on Washington to Today” hosted by Queen Latifah and other celebs, and “#Graduation2020: Facebook & Instagram Celebrate the Class of 2020” featuring Oprah, Miley Cyrus, Cardi B, Usher, Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Lil Nas X and more.

On the monetization front, Facebook recently launched paid online events, letting creators and businesses host and charge for an event. Facebook says it will not collect any fees from paid online events for at least the next year, but has complained that Apple will take a 30% cut of payments made through iOS.

In addition, Facebook has expanded the availability of fan subscriptions and Stars (which lets creators sell digital emoji to fans, which they can “gift” during livestreams). Henick said Facebook is continuing to develop and expand in-stream ads served in content on Facebook Watch.

Facebook’s media partners have stepped up their use of tools in Watch to reach new audiences, showcase creative content — and earn money.

BuzzFeed said it has increased revenue from Facebook Watch by focusing on producing more videos over 3 minutes, with ad revenue up 20% in the first half of 2020 versus the year-earlier period. Facebook also highlighted Endeavor’s UFC as a partner that exploits the video platform effectively, by sharing fight footage, highlights and interviews with athletes on Facebook Watch to build anticipation for its marquee pay-per-view events.

And sports continues to drive conversation and connection on Facebook Watch through live events, highlights, recaps and “shoulder” programming, Henick said. The company has partnerships with the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB and PGA Tour (among others) for recaps on Facebook Watch. Live sports programming, too, is an area of growth: For example, the UEFA Champions League broadcasts in Latin America this past weekend drew more than 13.7 million viewers (who watched at least a minute of video), making it the most-watched soccer match ever on Facebook.