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Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Facebook Unscripted Strategy: From “Video First” to “Video Fumble”

Facebook is fumbling its video strategy.

I have argued here that unlike traditional media players like Disney and Discovery, Facebook enjoys the financial scale and margins to throw endless buckets of mud against the wall of its video / social media strategy to see what sticks.

That’s despite the hammering that Facebook’s reputation and enterprise value are taking from the Russian election interference and other scandals, as well as the added cost of beefing up its security to prevent future such blowups.

“Video First”

  • CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been very public about his desire to prioritize video.
  • In Q2 ’16, Zuckerberg said, “We see a world that is video first with video at the heart of all our apps and service.”
  • Two years later, Facebook still doesn’t seem to have a video/monetization strategy.
  • It even lacks a coherent Test Market plan to test its video options and invest in the ones with the most promising outcomes.

News Feed

  • The core News Feed is deemphasizing professional content from partners.
  • With less professional video being delivered by partners, there will be less video consumed across the platform.
  • That is part problem and part solution:
    • Facebook and its video partners relied on pre-roll advertising to monetize their video content.
    • And yet Facebook has always been concerned that pre-rolls undermine its consumer’s experience on the core News Feed product.
  • Outcome: Facebook continues to develop other platforms as homes for compelling, professional video.


  • Facebook created the Watch tab and apps.
  • The funding strategy for Watch originals has been hard to figure out.
  • For a while, we heard of commissions of A-Lister premium docs with $3 Mn budgets.
  • There was more buzz about popular Talent-driven commissions from the likes of quarterback Tom Brady, Jada Pinkett Smith and Catherine Zeta-Jones .
  • These shows are characterized as “community driven” that “trigger conversations” particularly through Facebook Groups.
  • They aren’t pitched as “must watch” signature viewing in the ways that TV networks or even YouTube TV describe their programming.

The User Experience for Watch

  • The Watch user experience is far less addictive that for the Newsfeed product.
  • The personalized content offer from Watch seems disconnected from the algorithm that delivers the News Feed.
  • That’s an operational glitch that Facebook can easily solve — but it does convey the “mud against the wall” feeling that we get from the social giant’s video strategy..

Latest Research Reveals Watch’s Weakness

  • New research from The Diffusion Group highlights that usage and awareness of Facebook Watch is minimal, a year following its launch.
  • TDG found that 50% of users haven’t heard of Watch and another 24% have heard of it but have never used it.
  • Just 6% of Facebook users use Watch daily, with another 8% using it weekly.

The low usage and awareness are striking given that the Watch icon sits prominently at the bottom of the Facebook app, right alongside News Feed, friend requests and notifications. It also demonstrates how significantly different Watch is from the way Facebook users typically experience the service, via the News Feed and how difficult it’s proving for Facebook to migrate its users from News Feed. Will Richmond, VideoNuze

Watch: Peter’s Takeaways

  • Facebook enjoys 2.23 billion monthly active users.
  • The 6% of those MAU’s who are Daily Watch Users is 133,800,000 FB friends.
  • That’s still a head-snapping daily audience for video!

IGTV by Instagram

  • IGTV by Instagram is another Facebook video test product: More mud / Another wall.
  • It launched in 2Q ‘18.
  • According to VideoNuze’s brilliant Will Richmond “It has the potential to expand Instagram’s value proposition and possibly be a YouTube competitor, but in terms of being a revenue generator, it’s still early days.”

Other Video Solutions

  • Facebook execs talk about other ways that video is being used on their platform.
  • They mention more sharing with friends, more watching from creators on Instagram, and more video calls on WhatsApp and Messenger.
  • It doesn’t add up to much.
  • And all of this activity forces video creators to ask: Will I produce in the traditional horizontal format or the mobile-friendly vertical format?

Takeaways: YouTube leads

  • Facebook’s various video strategies are not scalable. They are unlikely to propel the company into the top ranks of the video entertainment industry.
  • YouTube in comparison is committed to creating highly-viewed programs that can be strongly monetized.
  • Its strategies include investments in originals, the YouTube TV platform, its Brandcast upfront event, Google Preferred, and more.
  • Among the big tech (FANG) companies, only Apple’s video strategy seems less well-developed than Facebook’s.

The Takeaway for Documentarians

  • This fast-moving story points to very limited opportunities for premium documentary producers at Facebook.
  • Though the doors are open to popular unscripted projects driven by A-List Talent and their agents.
  • Despite these early strategic double-takes, Facebook has such enormous scale that producers and competitive platforms must keep a close eye on its unfolding product tests.
  • BTW, FB execs mentioned in recent coverage include: Fidji Simo, VP Video;  Ricky Van Veen, head of Global Creative Strategy; and News Feed VP, Adam Mosseri.

Podcast: Measuring the Demand for Programs Across All Platforms

  • My recent podcast “How to Measure and Value Audiences for Unscripted Programs” features Parrot Analytics’ Courtney Williams
  • He describes how his firm developed Demand Expressions®a metric that captures audience demand for content around the world.
  • It measures the desire, engagement and viewership of content across multiple platforms and sources.
  • Demand Expressions is weighted by importance: a stream or a download is a higher expression of demand than a passive impression or a comment.
  • It measures the total audience demand being expressed for a title, within a market, and from a multitude of sources.
  • Watch out for more of my podcasts and coverage dedicated to the challenge of measuring the scale and impact of viewing across multiple platforms as the online video revolution takes hold.
  • Listen to the Podcast with Parrot Analytics’ Courtney Williams here.

Updated August 2018

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