The news that Facebook is planning to launch its own TV app, aimed at actual TV sets via Apple TV, Roku et al., raises more questions than it answers.
Some of the big ones for us include:
- Where are they getting their programming from? This is a big one. Netflix, Amazon and Hulu have snapped up almost all the current and legacy series out there. What they haven’t grabbed, the networks are holding on to themselves, for use on their own streaming apps or as part of their MVPD-based VOD libraries. So even if someone wanted to sell rights to Facebook, there’s nothing much left to sell. YouTube Red allegedly ran into this same problem, ditto Verizon’s Go90. Without a library, Facebook is going to have to rely on originals, which means a much more aggressive production schedule.
- Why would a network or studio want to sell their programming to Facebook anyway? Given that Facebook has access to all sorts of data about viewers, won’t the networks and studios assume that Facebook’s ultimate plan is to use that data to launch its own production capabilities and fully disintermediate them? This has long been a concern for the networks in using Facebook as a promotional platform: networks have precious little data about their viewers and rely on third-parties like Facebook to supply it for them. A Facebook that’s creating actual TV shows would only seem to amplify that concern.
- How much original programming are they planning to produce? Launching a network is a serious undertaking, especially if, in the absence of a sizable pre-existing library, you’re relying on originals. Netflix started out slowly, and even now, their Netflix Originals aren’t enough to sustain a weekly prime time line-up. Which leaves the question of just how much programming Facebook is planning to launch with. Will they be able to produce enough programming to keep viewers interested, which would seem to be about 40 hours a week in total.
- How TV-like will their programming be? Current reports have Facebook looking at mid-form (10-20 minute episodes) programming rather than long-form (20 minutes or longer.) Will the production values on these new shows reach TV-like levels or will it be more akin to reality TV and other down-and-dirty programming? That matters because if they are going to be competing with TV for space on the 60-inch 4K TV in the den, then production value is going to matter a lot more than it does on a smartphone.
- Who is the audience? The great thing about Facebook the social network is that it appeals to a wide range of audiences, everyone from middle schoolers to their grandparents. Will Facebook TV target the same wide audience? Or are they looking specifically at younger viewers with programming that will appeal to that demographic?
- How much integration will there be? We’ll assume that you’ll need to sign in via Facebook to use the new app, but will ads you see on TV then show up in your news feed? Will they be based on your current “Likes” on Facebook and Instagram? From an advertiser perspective, integration is a great move. From a user POV though, it could get creepy very quickly. In a similar vein, will there be a mobile version of the app and how will it integrate with the main Facebook app—will it be a stand-alone app or just a tab on the main app?
- Will users want to watch an ad-supported channel with less-than-stellar programming? Reports are that game shows are among the genres Facebook is looking at. While we’re big fans of Jeopardy, we’re not sure how many people would pick that over Game of Thrones, The Crown, Homeland or dozens of other ad-free options. On a more meta level, is it a wise move to put web-style programming up against multimillion dollar productions? Will that make Facebook’s offerings look inferior or just different?
- What is the timeline? Is this something they’re planning on launching in six months? Six years? Production alone takes a good deal of time and it will take close to a year to get high-end productions in gear. Not-so-high end productions? While that’s conceivable sometime in a six-month timeframe, there’s no indication Facebook has inked any deals yet.
One other thing Facebook is good at is changing its mind. When you are (more or less) the only game in town, that’s not only wise, it’s also pretty easy to do. So it’s possible this project will morph considerably over the next months/years as the media landscape changes.
Whatever happens, you can rely on TV[R]EV to keep you up to date on why it matters and what you need to do about it.