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Week In Review: Facebook Moves On Watch;  Charter Launches Original Content Division

1. Facebook Moves On Watch

Facebook made two very interesting moves with Watch, its new video platform, this week. It started hitting up people in their Notifications to tell them about new shows, and Ricky Van Veen, Watch’s lead, got on stage at NATPE and started talking about their evolving programming strategy, sounding very much like the rest of the TV guys.

Why It Matters

Facebook’s plan with Watch is actually very interesting in that it’s fairly risky. Rather than aim for blockbuster hits, Facebook is trying to target niche audiences, on the theory that they are very passionate and are not currently being catered to.

What’s particularly risky is that, like Google. Facebook does not yet seem to have grasped the concept that the shows actually have to be good to get people to watch them. That having shows with or about Tom Brady is not enough to keep his fans tuning in regularly—the show actually has to be entertaining or informative or whatnot. Especially since Facebook is counting on those fans being engaged to sit through several midroll commercials.

Stats from Canvs, a company that measures Emotional Response Rate on social media, indicate that educational shows on Watch are out to an early lead. But we’re taking that with several grains of salt, as Facebook has not started really promoting Watch yet and the lead is likely to change hands once they do.

That change is about to happen too, as Facebook has started pushing notifications about Watch shows out to users via Notifications. The only problem is those little red circles may not be the best way to get someone to tune in—the two I received, for the new basketball-themed show “Ball In The Family” for example, both came to me on my phone at times I was in no position to watch a video and I’m not sure I’d have remembered them were I not in the industry, especially if I had no idea that Watch was an actual thing (versus Facebook was just promoting some random video to me. Again.)

That said, the “Ball In The Family” page currently has over a million fans so someone is liking it. Though, to my earlier point about creating something people like, the first episode has 10.1M views, while the second drops to 1.7M, the third to 1.3M and last Sunday’s has yet to break 1M. (And as we know from Facebook’s earlier antics, a “view” can be as little as three seconds, as in “what is this? oh, an 18 minute video, no thank you.”) 

So there’s that.

Bottom line is Facebook is going to have to start paying attention to the quality of the shows (and the fact that the alleged dollar amount they’re paying for shows has shot up from $100K/episode to $1M+/episode may indicate they’re realizing that. Though cost and quality are not 1:1 equivalents.) 

In the same vein, they’re also going to think about how they promote the shows. Notifications may not be the way to go, as people don’t expect Facebook to be stalking them like that, especially if they are unaware that Watch even exists.

Both issues are eminently fixable, it’s just that Facebook needs to realize that second chances on entertainment options are different than second chances on apps—if nothing else, there are a lot more popular entertainment options than there are popular social media apps.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re a network, or an MVPD (since, as we’ll see in a moment, MVPDs are in the content game these days) you should be happy that Facebook doesn’t appear to be providing much competition right now. But be aware that can change on a dime and think about how to defend yourself against it. (Hint: If you want to make a show that appeals to Tom Brady fans, you can buy that audience on Facebook and run advertising against it.)

If you’re an advertiser, we’d advise you to hold up until Facebook gets its act together a little more and can ensure you that viewers are sticking around long enough to actually watch your commercials. You might consider a branded content play on Facebook, as those still appear to be on the table, and if yours is good, it could be a winner.

2. Charter Launches Original Content Division

Charter had previously announced that they’d be developing original programming in conjunction with AMC and Viacom, and it looks like they’re actually going through with it—they’ve hired former NBCU and Chernin development executive Katherine Pope to head the new division.

Why It Matters

Zero rating. While Charter talks a good game about using original content as a way to differentiate themselves from other MVPDs, it seems obvious that, thanks to the FCC’s elimination of net neutrality, they can promote the new original programming and not have it count towards users data caps, something that becomes a bigger benefit once they launch their own vMVPD.

While good original content is a plus, shows that only live on a single MVPD are kind of small potatoes, even if that particular MVPD is in both the New York and Los Angeles markets. It’s likely that if one of the shows is a hit, Charter will allow AMC and/or Viacom to sell it to other MVPDs (or Netflix, Hulu or Amazon, or even as a separate standalone service) taking a cut of the profits and, likely, building in some kind of windowing.

If Comcast/NBCU and AT&T/Time Warner move in this direction too—and if Charter has winner, they are likely do so—the notion of MVPD as content creator will become a thing, introducing a whole new slew of players into the already crowded original content field. That’s good for consumers, but makes it harder to actually have a hit.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re an MVPD, you’ll want to figure out what your original programming strategy is and start developing it ASAP. Just remember to hire people who have development experience.

If you’re a network, think about how you might partner with an MVPD. Or Netflix or Amazon or Hulu. You’re in a good place right now though as the “hit program experts” and people will want to take advantage of your experience.

If you’re an advertiser, keep an eye out to see which of these shows is taking off. Among other benefits, you’ll get a cross-platform audience because the MVPDs have email addresses and IP addresses. Score!