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Why Facebook Should Have Bought Friends

Amidst the recent streaming war drama that seems to have culminated in the fight over who gets streaming access to Ross, Chandler and Joey, I had a thought: If anyone should have landed the Central Perk sextet, shouldn’t it have been the home of the often regrettable friend request?

Should Facebook have bid for Friends?

If for no better reason than the potential of the headlines “Facebook to Warner: ‘How you doin’?” (Sorry).

More importantly – by nabbing the rights to stream over 230 episodes of the mystifyingly popular sitcom, at least it would feel like Facebook has an actual plan in video.

Because, right now, it’s hard to make sense of what the embattled Silicon Valley giant wants out of the video business.

That is, assuming Facebook knows.

For starters, how else do you explain the company’s ever-evolving, never-inspiring strategy for Facebook Watch?

This week, heading into VidCon, Facebook is reported courting digital creators on the merits and financial benefits of the platform. Digiday’s Tim Peterson breaks down how tough that pitch will be to creators seeking reliable audiences and revenue.

Besides being home to a random collection of reality shows featuring the likes of no-longer-a-Laker Lonzo Ball and Jada Pinkett Smith, Facebook seems to once again be emulating YouTube by courting native vlogger talent – while also looking to emulate Twitch by enticing gaming live streamers to the platform, reported CNBC.

Put aside whether this makes financial sense, Facebook has tried this before, more than once. How many times have they wooed creators or publishers with a new program such as Suggested Videos, Live, Partner Collab-Program-Initiative-Whatevers.

At a certain point, you are what you are. YouTube is for viewing, Facebook is for scrolling. One’s for intentional video entertainment, the other for distraction.

At least Facebook’s sister Instagram has a sense of itself and its video prospects. For starters, the product has actual inherent viewing behavior. Video from influencers makes a lot more sense on a platform that is so dominated by influencers.

Yet IGTV hasn’t exactly set the world on fire, either.

Or course, you could argue that launching two massive video services, seemingly going after similar audiences, at nearly the exact same time doesn’t make a lot of sense for a giant, messy, sprawling company. That would be like Google launching YouTube Music and Google Play Music at the same time. That would be nuts, right?

You might also ask why Instagram shoved IGTV into a corner tab of its app (an app within an app) when Stories and video are built into the core Instagram service. It would seem that IGTV (if it even has a reason to exist) could be baked-in rather seamlessly into Instagram classic.

But I digress.

The point is, why is Facebook thinking so small and so derivatively? When it comes to video, Alphabet has never said how much YouTube pulls in, or whether it’s profitable. It’s telling that YouTube figures are never broken out in its earnings calls. One analyst pegged YouTube’s 2018 ad revenue at $15 billion. Which is great! Except that it was a 15-year slog for YouTube to get there, loaded with content strategies’ fits, starts, mishaps and a never-ending brand safety ticking time bomb.

Meanwhile, despite all its success, YouTube’s still barely made a dent in the $70 billion US TV ad market.

How long will it take for Facebook to get any real traction here?

All this is playing out in the background of the billion-dollar streaming wars, with HBO Max taking on Netflix and Amazon Prime and Disney Plus and Crackle’s ‘Hey, What Else Are You Doing?’ with their massive bets on series built around Boba Fett’s cousins and Frodo’s ancestors, etc, etc.

Shouldn’t Facebook, with its 2 billion-plus global reach and $55 billion-plus in annual revenue, be thinking much, much bigger? If FANG is about digital domination, why go after a few YouTube stars when you can take on the entire future of media?

Couldn’t Facebook easily spend its way to building out a Netflix killer? They could seemingly do that on their own. Or, what if Facebook was the pipes and platform for Warner or NBCU-know it or AppleFlix? Like I mentioned, Facebook is kind of big. And it’s pretty good at launching direct-to-consumer businesses.

Brian Morrissey and Peter Kafka had a great conversation about why this isn’t happening right now in a recent Digiday podcast. Facebook (and YouTube) are ever-reluctant to be content monitors for programmers. It seems to be a deeply held cultural thing.

Still, then why bother going after the messy digital creator universe, with all its brand safety pitfalls?

Why not instead outbid Netflix and WarnerMedia on the most brand-safe property out there?

Imagine: what if Facebook suddenly had the exclusive rights to Rachel, Monica and Phoebe? That’s an instant game-changer for Facebook Watch. It would instantly put the outlet in the entertainment consideration set of multiple generations.

And if it doesn’t work, what’s a few hundred million to Facebook?

Could it be any more obvious?