Facebook looks to build Watch through aggressive content acquisition strategy

A large chunk of Watch users come from India as the country is Facebook’s biggest market with 320 million users

e4m by Javed Farooqui
Updated: Feb 22, 2021 3:04 PM
Facebook Watch

With India emerging as a video-first digital market, social media giant Facebook is betting big on its video-on-demand service Watch. As per the most recent available figure, Watch had 1.25 billion users globally. A large chunk of Watch users come from India as the country is Facebook’s biggest market with 320 million users.

In order to retain its user base and build stickiness on the platform, Facebook has been beefing up Watch by licencing/commissioning content. The focus on video coincided with the huge growth in consumption of over the top (OTT) and short-video content.

In recent times, Facebook has inked partnerships with Sony Pictures Network India for the India-Australia series, ICC - as their exclusive digital content rights partner across their events till 2023, Filmfare Awards, IIFA Awards as well as partnerships with India’s leading music labels such as T-Series, Zee Music, Yash Raj Films, and Saregama.

Apart from leading publishers, Facebook has also onboarded independent content creators to offer depth and variety of content on Watch. In January 2020, Facebook had said that Watch has emerged as one of the most preferred platforms in India for creators and fans to connect with each other.

Some of the shows launched by the platform in India include edutainment show Be Safe, travel show Heads or Tails, ‘Raat Baaki’, ‘Bae Control’, and food show Dish Unlocked. Last year, it had also commissioned a chat show with cricketer Virender Sehwag called ‘Viru Ki Baithak’.

One of the most significant content bets made by Facebook in India was acquiring the La Liga rights for the Indian sub-continent for three years in August 2018. The company had also made an aggressive bid for the Indian Premier League (IPL) digital rights. While it eventually lost the rights to Star India, its Rs 3900 crore bid forced the industry to sit up and take notice.

Responses from Facebook India did not come till the time of filing this report. However, in a recent interaction with exchange4media.com, Facebook India Director and Head of Partnerships Manish Chopra had said that Watch will continue to focus on sports, entertainment, news, and lifestyle.

“For the year 2021, we will continue to support our partners and creators every step of the way and endeavour to share more unique experiences with users on the platform. We aim to introduce more offerings for our Facebook community to connect with their friends and families seamlessly, along with new exciting products and features. We will continue to build new tools so partners/creators can diversify their revenue and expand their presence on Facebook. We are also looking forward to some exciting collaborations across our key focus areas of sports, entertainment, news, and lifestyle which will help unlock more engaging experiences for users across demographics,” Chopra had said.

Speaking about the partnership with Facebook, LaLiga India MD Jose Antonio Cachaza said that the LaLiga-Facebook relationship has been beneficial for both parties. "Everything in this deal was the first of its kind and new for everyone. It was the first time a social media platform was the exclusive broadcaster of a top league like LaLiga in a top market like the Indian subcontinent. For Facebook, it meant a closer relationship with the football fans and for LaLiga, it gave us an increased exposition to Facebook, which has almost 400 million users in the Indian sub-continent."

Cachaza also pointed out that the LaLiga audience in India has doubled thanks to Facebook. "Our audience has more than doubled since we started our partnership with Facebook; plus, the number of views is three times higher than before. This agreement with Facebook shows us that interest in football and LaLiga continuously growing not only in India but also globally, in fact, LaLiga has reached 2.8 billion people globally last season (cumulative audience of 2019-20 season)."

Talking about the nature of the deal, he said, "As with any other broadcaster partnership, it is a commercial as well as mutual support agreement geared to the growth of both Facebook and LaLiga."

Kurate Digital Consulting senior partner Uday Sodhi said that Facebook has done multiple types of deals with publishers for the Watch platform. He noted that Facebook’s main focus is short-form videos of 5–10-minute length.

“Facebook is following the right strategy by focussing on video content acquisition for Watch. They want to acquire enough content so that they can offer customised content to their users based on algorithms. They are paying content fees in some cases. It is also doing content fee + consumption-based deals. In some cases, it is only doing deals based on consumption,” Sodhi noted.

He also said that the platform has partnered with broadcasters for entertainment content of short durations. This strategy, he said, is a win-win for both parties. “While broadcasters are building their own OTT platforms, they are using Facebook’s massive reach to promote their shows,” he stated.

On monetisation, Sodhi said that Facebook cannot monetise Watch the same way as YouTube does since YouTube has long-form videos where pre-roll ads are possible whereas Facebook Watch mostly has short-form videos. He also noted that Facebook Watch will not want to annoy its viewers by pushing ads in the short-form content.

Sodhi feels that Facebook will first build scale for Watch by aggregating audiences through relevant content. Once it has built enough scale it will start monetising by coming up with customised solutions for advertisers.

Grapes Digital COO Shradha Agarwal pointed out that Facebook’s aggressive video strategy stems from the fact that the platform faces the problem of inactive users due to the emergence of new platforms. The social media platform has also seen user migration to Instagram, which is also owned by Facebook Inc.

She further stated that Facebook has been making efforts to draw more people to its platform and also ensure that the existing user base spends more time.

According to Agrawal, Facebook realised that it has merely become a platform for sharing and commenting. Therefore, launching Watch was its way of staying relevant in the market. She also said that content has emerged as the most important commodity in the digital era.

RepIndia Vice President- Brand Strategy Nazneen Joshi said that Facebook Watch caters to each user's niche - from entertainment to beauty, sports, and everything in between. She added that Watch’s collection of video content derives from creators because no one can post directly on the platform.

Facebook, she said, uses its algorithm to produce basic user engagement and behavioural patterns, using better navigation, expert curation, and smarter machine learning.

“During this last year, when people couldn’t physically come together, we witnessed an exponential increase (In India, Facebook Live viewership jumped 50%) in people turning to Watch to stay connected to creators, artists, sports, entertainment and in general what’s happening in the world, no doubt a direct assault on platforms like YouTube. To support those connections, acquiring dedicated sections within Watch for live videos and curated content becomes paramount. Shows in Watch continue to inspire conversation in Facebook Groups and beyond—which further adds to the value proposition of the platform. This model allows creators a wider platform, while businesses can diversify their revenue and expand presence on Facebook with the potential of allowing brands to select which shows they want to advertise on and thus creating a tiered advertising system to allow companies to advertise on top Watch videos,” Joshi said.

WATConsult EVP, Operations & Media Sahil Shah feels that Facebook should pivot into an original + licensed content model beyond its current model of user-generated video content. He also said that original content will help Facebook to stay relevant in the fast-evolving market.

"Due to low literacy rates, cheap smartphones, cheapest internet plans, and the forced lockdown in 2020; India has rapidly moved to become one of the largest video consumption markets in the world. There are OTT players that have grown at a phenomenal scale; there is YouTube that commands a significant reach pie of video consumption and then there is the Facebook family of apps that have increasingly started pushing video-led content a lot more on their platforms. Facebook beyond its current model of user-generated video content needs to also pivot into original + licensed content if they want to become the super app for everything content,” Shah said.

“Frankly, I do believe they are lagging behind considering the rapid acceleration that has taken place in the last 3-4 years both from OTT and YouTube perspective. So, it will be an interesting "watch" as Facebook, over the years, has had the reputation to pick up the latest trends as to what users want and has evolved as a platform. Video as a content type is not new to Facebook’s radar. Adding more exclusive content with features like collective viewing, sharing, social discovery, etc. will help increase both time-spent, engagement and reach on the platform."

Filter Coffee Co. Founder & CEO Anuja Deora Sanctis said that Facebook faces competition from OTT platforms and to compete it needs content. "Like all streaming services, Facebook Watch saw a surge of users when the pandemic started. But to take on the likes of Netflix, Prime, etc, they will have to expand and which is why they have started acquiring content in India from production houses and music label companies. With the increasing demand for live interactions, maintaining brand value, and managing user engagement, the streaming platform has to deliver the desired content to the audience likewise for stability."

Admatazz Chief Strategist & Founder Yash Chandiramani commented, “I think it's extremely important for Facebook to acquire content like the LaLiga rights so it starts becoming a platform for serious video viewing. Right now, its video feed is dominated by recycled content from other video platforms especially YouTube. This is a good step to increase the time spent on the app. Not only does it have more to offer its users now, including the younger ones that are dwindling away, it also has more spots to offer happy advertisers like us."

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