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Why Facebook’s New YouTube Rival Faces Very Different Challenges

4 minute read

Facebook is making a big effort to boost its video presence with the launch of Watch, a new subsection of the social media giant’s feature lineup meant to serve as a destination for original episodic shows. Facebook is introducing Watch to a limited number of people in the U.S., and the company hasn’t specified when it will roll out more broadly.

Watch is essentially a personalized hub for video content that Facebook will curate and recommend based on the massive interactions that happen daily on the platform. For example, Watch will include a “What’s Making People Laugh” category that offers up shows in which many viewers have picked Facebook’s “Haha” reaction. “Most Talked About” highlights video content that’s generated a lot of conversation on Facebook, while the self-explanatory “What Friends Are Watching” serves up shows that are popular with your friends.

Facebook is framing Watch not only as a video service for the company’s 1.32 billion daily users, but also as a means to foster and attract talent. The company describes Watch as “a platform for all creators and publishers to find an audience, build a community of passionate fans, and earn money for their work.”

That may sound an awful lot like YouTube, which has been responsible for cultivating a new wave of celebrities who have found fame by serving up content attractive to massive audiences on the Alphabet-owned platform.

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But there are fundamental differences between the way people find, discover and watch videos on Facebook compared to YouTube. Think about the videos you come across on Facebook most often: they may include heartwarming clips from The Dodo showing adorable animals being rescued, simple but ingenious dinner recipes from Tasty, or video memes published by UNILAD.

More importantly, consider where and how you usually discover such videos on Facebook. While Facebook already has a dedicated tab for video, chances are you regularly stumble upon the site’s videos in your News Feed crawl because a friend shared it, posted it to your Timeline, or otherwise interacted with it in some way.

Contrast with how you use YouTube. You may frequent YouTube because you avidly follow a particular person or channel, like PewDiePie or Lilly Singh. Perhaps you’re fixing a broken zipper and need a bit of help from a video tutorial. YouTube has long established itself as the go-to platform and search engine for just about any type of video you can think of.

That’s not to say Facebook’s prospects for Watch are slim. There’s clearly demand for more video content, which some publishers are flocking to satisfy. And Facebook’s massive social media presence gives it the sort of taste-tracking leg up other companies dream of.

For example, Facebook may be better at personalizing video recommendations since it already knows a lot about you based on the posts you react to and the pages you follow. When you open the News Feed, you’re already getting an individualized view of what’s happening in the world that’s specific to you, one that’s centered around your interests and the people that matter to you most.

It’s easy to imagine Facebook taking a similar approach when it comes to curating video. YouTube, meanwhile, relies more heavily on viewing history for recommendations, which means it can take longer for new users to see meaningful suggestions.

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Facebook may one day have the edge in luring talent, too, despite YouTube’s reputation for creating multimillionaire celebrities. Facebook’s social canvas offers a much bigger opportunity to reach viewers who might otherwise not be looking for video content when they bring up Facebook on their phones. YouTube, by comparison, is a video site designed for people actively seeking video content in specialized categories like video game commentary, beauty tutorials or apartment remodeling.

Industry observers have interpreted Facebook’s Watch as a move to challenge YouTube. That’s probably true on balance, but it’s important to consider how different both companies’ approaches have been up to this point. Facebook’s challenges are manifold, and extend beyond merely beating YouTube at its own game. Will Facebook users embrace a mindset that bids them go looking for video experiences instead of waiting to absorb whatever surfaces in their News Feeds?

Time will tell, though it probably hinges on the company’s ability not just to lure viewers away from video-focused rivals, but to fold its new stable of video content into the popular, signature platform features it already has, and that its rivals lack.

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