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Facebook doubles Watch numbers in six months with 140 million daily viewers

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…but only a third of publisher-funded shows are being renewed. We take a look at the latest update from Facebook Watch.

Facebook has released updated viewing figures for Watch, its video-on-demand streaming service which rolled out worldwide in August last year.

Watch now has 140 million daily viewers – people who spend at least one minute in Watch – according to the tech giant, with more than 720 million people tuning in monthly.

Those figures are almost double the 75 million users reported in December 2018. Average time spent on videos in Watch has also increased, from 20 minutes daily in December, to 26 minutes.

Facebook credits its original shows like Jada Pinkett Smith’s “Red Table Talk” and Elizabeth Olsen’s “Sorry for Your Loss” for keeping the momentum going. But as with all figures the company releases, they haven’t been independently verified, and there isn’t enough information given to work out how much of a consistent audience is being built.

There are also question marks over Facebook’s measure of ‘engagement’. Facebook defines an engaged viewer as one who has spent at least 60 seconds with Watch per month or day, but according to Axios, those 60 seconds don’t need to be consecutive. And with autoplay still enabled on most people’s News Feeds, it’s difficult to say how many of those seconds are from people stopping to actually watch content, rather than just scrolling past.

Facebook have also announced that they are launching a number of new news shows, and based on what has been doing well over the past few months, renewing funding for existing shows. But of the 21 news partners originally funded, only around a third of them have had the shows renewed, including ABC News, Univision, BuzzFeed News, Business Insider, Fox News and more.

The company is introducing a group feature to Watch, where viewers can find groups based on the videos they’re watching. This seems to be based on people wanting to discuss shows as they’re watching them with people being more than 8 times more likely to comment when watching with friends, which is why Facebook are also experimenting heavily with ‘Watch Parties’ and other co-watching experiences.

Watch’s related groups feature, and Watch Party. Image via Facebook Newsroom

You win some, you lose some

The update comes on the same day that CNN announced it was pulling “Anderson Cooper Full Circle” off Facebook Watch, where it had been exclusively for a year. The popular daily news program will instead be running on CNN’s own digital properties from September.

The decision to take the show off Watch doesn’t seem to be down to a lack of success. Episodes of “Full Circle,” which have run every weekday since July 2017 have reached 2 million people on average according to Variety. Andrew Morse, executive VP and GM of CNN Digital Worldwide said in a memo to staff that “we know it will perform well on our platforms too”.

This then looks like Watch was just a testbed for CNN to see whether the show could attract an audience, conveniently using Facebook’s multimillion-dollar investment. Cooper’s show will be replaced by a program called “Go There,” focusing on correspondents using mobile footage. Still, given the apparent growth Watch is showing, the timing of CNN’s decision to bring the show in-house is curious.

Monetisation opportunities

Part of the update from Facebook’s team focused on the global expansion of ad breaks – the primary way of monetising Watch videos. The number of Pages – all content creators, not necessarily publishers – actively using ad breaks has allegedly tripled over the past year, with the number of Pages earning over $1,000 in payouts per month having increased 8x.

Page earnings over the past 12 months. Image via Facebook Newsroom.

While Facebook is funding the content, it’s easy for publishers to see gains from ad breaks, with the revenue being split with Facebook. But when the funding dries up, will the millions of views gathered by viral publishers like Buzzfeed actually translate to enough revenue to cover the production costs?

With little in the way of tangible figures, it’s difficult to tell. As always with Facebook, big numbers around viewing and engagement should be taken with a tablespoon of salt, and for publishers with a video strategy, YouTube is proving to be a more reliable platform for repeat viewing and actually building an audience that come back for episodic content.