Since launching in 2017, Facebook Watch has been under intense scrutiny as the latest would-be challenger to rival YouTube. Although Watch hasn’t even come close to capitalizing on what many thought was a built-in audience with Facebook’s 1.56 billion daily active users, new data does suggest positive traction in viewership—and more money going to its creator partners.
According to Facebook, Watch now has more than 720 million monthly users compared to 400 million in 2018. More than 140 million people spend at least one minute in Watch daily, but, on average, those daily visitors spend 26 minutes watching videos in Watch. Facebook also announced that the number of Show Pages actively using ad breaks has more than tripled over the past year. The number of Pages earning more than $1,000 in payouts per month has increased 8x, and Pages earning more than $10,000 have increased threefold.
Watch’s upswing comes at a time when Facebook is making a more concerted play to TV advertisers. During this year’s upfronts, Facebook announced Showcase, a video ad program that allows TV ad buyers to select preset rates and guaranteed ad impressions for its premium originals and long-form creator content. Erik Geisler, Facebook’s head of U.S. agency sales, made sure to spotlight that all the programs in Showcase are reviewed by humans before being eligible for monetization, a well-timed and not-so subtle dig at YouTube’s ongoing struggle with controversial content and brand safety.
From extremist videos to pedophiles swarming the comment fields, YouTube has been losing top-tier advertisers as it struggles to keep pace with the sheer volume of videos uploaded to the site each day. The latest blow to YouTube has been how it’s handled Vox journalist Carlos Maza’s spotlight on how far-right commentator Steven Crowder has targeted him, seemingly in violation of the platform’s rules against anti-hate speech—with no proper recourse. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki even went so far as to apologize Monday evening at Recode’s Code Conference, but then quickly stood firm regarding the company’s policies of flagging and reviewing videos:
Look, I think there’s certainly different levels of threats in the videos and different ways that we would interpret it depending upon the context of who is the person and what they’re saying. In many cases, we would terminate the channel if we thought it was a channel that was dedicated to a number of, I don’t know, hateful, harassment, etc. But in this case, it was a large amount of political speech. Seeing it in context, we struck the video, removed monetization, but left the rest of the channel up.
But even as YouTube grapples with retaining favor with brands and creators, Facebook is by no means primed to be a rightful successor.
Putting aside Facebook’s own exhaustive list of controversies, the success rate for its creator community has been scattershot at best. Back in February, Mashable interviewed several Facebook Watch creators and found many of them were dealing with stagnated views, declining revenue, and the feeling that Facebook is focused primarily on Watch content. It was harder for creators who just have Facebook pages and aren’t official Watch partners to monetize their video content. Also, the kind of content that tends to pop on Facebook (e.g., family-friendly fare) is far more specific than the broad array of creator content pulling in millions of views and meaningful revenue on YouTube.
However, where Facebook seems to have an edge on YouTube is in original content. Watch has found both critical and million-plus viewership numbers per episode with Golden State Warrior Steph Curry‘s docuseries Stephen vs. The Game and Jada Pinkett Smith’s Red Table Talk. And while the Elizabeth Olsen-driven drama Sorry for Your Loss isn’t pulling in eight- or even seven-digit views, it’s currently sitting at a 94% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes and will surely be in contention for this year’s Emmys race. YouTube has enjoyed some success with shows like Cobra Kai, but the bulk of their originals have been stuck behind a paywall not enough people are willing to actually pay for.
Watch will likely never reach the rarified (if somewhat polluted air) of YouTube’s massive library of user-generated content—nor should Netflix feel threatened anytime soon. These latest numbers show there’s potential in Watch. How not to squander that potential remains to be seen.