Facebook is unleashing hundreds of thousands of music videos in the U.S. starting this weekend — a direct challenge to YouTube, which has had a virtual lock on the internet music-video space for years.

According to Facebook, its debut of official music videos in the States is about more than just watching the videos themselves: Execs say the videos will be wrapped in new social experiences, all designed to encourage people to spend more time in Facebook’s apps.

With the U.S. launch of music videos, which Facebook has been actively developing since at least last fall, the company has updated Artist Pages of musicians and singers with a new section to let users browse their official music videos. Users will be able to follow an artist directly from music videos on Facebook, and click through from a video to their Page to get info like when they’re performing next and how to purchase their music.

Music videos will go live for U.S. users starting Saturday, Aug. 1, and will roll out to everyone in the country over the following days. The jury is still out on how much traction Facebook will get with the strategy, but it’s a massive opportunity: On YouTube, music videos account for around 25% of overall consumption, according to the Google-owned platform.

“Everything we do over here at Facebook in music is about building community and connecting artists and fans,” said Tamara Hrivnak, VP of music business development and partnerships. “That’s a fundamentally different approach from other companies.” That includes not only YouTube, said Hrivnak — who previously worked at YouTube and Google — but also, more broadly, every other music service.

“Most companies in this space are creating a listening experience,” she said. Facebook carving out a “completely unique space” in music, Hrivnak argued: “It’s about expressing how you feel.”

For the U.S. launch, Facebook has inked licensing deals for music videos with the three major music companies — Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group — as well as Merlin, BMG, Kobalt, and many independent music labels, publishers and societies. The full catalog of music videos will roll out over the next few weeks.

With its push into music videos, Facebook is working to support and promote content produced by artists. In the coming weeks, the company has lined up several exclusive global music video premieres, including from J Balvin, Karol G, Sebastian Yatra, Alejandro Fernandez and Calibre 50. In addition, In addition, influencer and singer Lele Pons will be releasing an exclusive video on Facebook, and Panamanian R&B singer Sech will exclusively release a new video on Facebook, with plans to hype the premiere using livestreaming, countdown stickers in Facebook Stories, and fan groups.

Michael Nash, EVP of digital strategy at Universal Music Group, said that Facebook has the longest-term strategic planning of any partner the music company works with. “You can certainly make the argument that no development has been more important for music than social media. That’s why establishing a strategic partnership with Facebook has been a priority for Universal Music the last few years,” he said.

For music discovery, computer-crunched algorithms are one thing. But, Nash said, “there’s nothing more powerful than friends sharing about an artist they love.”

Facebook’s launch of official music videos is part of a continuum of tools to help artists engage their fans, according to Hrivnak, alongside livestreaming and other features. She cited artists like Miranda Lambert, J Balvin and Katy Perry as embracing new forms of immersive social engagement on Facebook platforms, by creating augmented-reality filters inspired by their official music videos that give fans a completely new experience.

“Not too long ago, we just pressed ‘play.’ Now it’s the experience of music and the conversation around it,” Hrivnak said.

The Facebook music videos will include ads in various formats, including a pre-roll ad before the video plays, during the video as an image ad below the video player, and after the music video as a post-roll ad. Hrivnak said Facebook will iterate advertising in the music experience over time. She also confirmed that Facebook has no plans to introduce a subscription-music service.

So what took Facebook as long as it did to launch music videos? “It’s a purposeful strategy on our part,” Hrivnak said. “Our differences as a place for music… are about putting music in the hands of people, where people are truly expressive. It’s about mood and the telling of stories.”

Prior to joining Facebook in February 2017, Hrivnak was director of music partnerships for YouTube and Google Play, and prior to that spent seven years at Warner Music Group. “When I worked at a major music company… it was often a scenario where folks would come around with their bucket and they were ready for you to dump your [music] rights in it and come back a couple years later,” she said. At Facebook, “That’s not the way that we think of this exercise because we want to build that future together with our partners, specifically because we’re not a single-service approach. We’re adding music into all the places that people already connect and share across our entire family of apps and services.”

As with any video on Facebook, music videos can be shared (in News Feed, Groups and Messenger), reacted to, and commented on. The social giant also is launching a new destination dedicated to music in Facebook Watch, which will organize music videos by genre, artist or mood. The music hub in Facebook Watch will include playlists “Popular This Week” and “New This Week,” and themed playlists such as “Hip Hop MVPs,” “Epic Dance Videos” and “Trailblazers of Pop.”

For the past few years, Facebook has worked hand-in-hand with partners in the music biz to develop and launch U.S. music videos, Hrivnak said. The company has been testing music videos in India and Thailand since late 2019 as a proving ground before bringing the features to the U.S. market.

The company has previously rolled out the ability to include music in the background of user-generated videos, and users can add Music and Lyrics stickers to a Facebook or Instagram Story.

In the initial launch, users will not be able to create their own playlists of music videos, but Hrivnak said that feature will be coming soon. The music videos on Facebook won’t play in the background on mobile devices, though: “This is about presence,” Hrivnak said.