Facebook Watch Relying on Interactivity to Compete in the Streaming Wars

At IAB NewFronts West, Facebook emphasized the social appeal of its shows.
Limetown Jessica Biel Facebook Watch
Facebook showed a trailer for "Limetown," an upcoming Facebook Watch series, during NewFronts West.
Ricardo Hubbs / Facebook Watch

With the launch of Disney+ and Apple TV+ on the horizon, Facebook is stepping up to remind advertisers of their streaming content on Facebook Watch – and the inherent advantage they have over competitors in creating an active community of viewers.

At the IAB NewFronts West 2019 event in Los Angeles Thursday, Facebook entertainment industry manager Nichole Delansky showed trailers for several of Facebook Watch’s upcoming series, including “Limetown,” which recently premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, and highlighted how they can foster social viewing and retention.

“When people are watching together in what we call a “Watch Party,” they comment 8 times more when watching as opposed to when they watch alone,” Delansky said. “Watch is making streaming video an active and connective experience.”

Delansky also hosted a Q&A session with pro soccer players Sydney Leroux and Lindsey Horan, who starred in two Facebook Watch series earlier in the year. Leroux’s “Bad as a Mother” follows the athlete as she balances her family and professional lives while anticipating the birth of her second child. Horan co-starred alongside Megan Rapinoe in “Generations,” a docuseries about their road to the 2019 World Cup in France.

Although a handful of other media companies, including Fuse Media and the Ellen Digital Network—the former launched 10 new series, while the latter announced two series on Wednesday—hosted panels to promote their upcoming projects, much of the two-day event was focused on candid conversations about the state and future of the media industry.

Fittingly, NewFronts closed with a discussion on the industry’s future, which was moderated by Randall Rothenberg, CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau. Rothenberg spoke with Tricia Melton, Freeform’s senior vice president of marketing, and Mac Hagel, EVP/managing director of Publicis Media, on a handful of topics, including subscription services and ad-based platforms versus subscription-based ones.

Although AVOD services have largely been overshadowed by SVOD platforms in recent years, the duo noted that ad-based streamers may be making a comeback. For example, Melton noted that one Disney+ subscription option would include a bundle with ESPN+ and the ad-supported version of Hulu, which could be viewed as a way for Disney to test consumer feedback to that version of Hulu. Beyond that, Hagel noted that NBCUniversal’s still-unnamed streaming service would be ad-supported. If that platform gains momentum, it could signal a shift in the industry.

Regardless, both agreed that companies of all sizes and business models had a place in an industry that is crammed with more high-quality television than ever. That sad, Hagel warned that could abruptly change in the event of an economic downturn.

“Smaller companies will always have a place because there will always be a need to create content,” Hagel said during the discussion. “I’m curious to see what happens when recession hits. You’ve really got to wrestle with who your customer is and where they’re going to be.”

Interactive Advertising Bureau, the trade group that runs the event series, began hosting NewFronts events in Los Angeles last year to allow attendees to connect with West Coast marketers.

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