Facebook looks to “game-ify” content

As the platform roll outs its video offering Watch globally, it is ramping up its search for formats that can “game-ify” content and leverage Facebook’s interactivity across Europe. Manori Ravindran reports.

This MIPCOM, it has been exactly one year since Facebook execs such as unscripted head Toby Faulkner first hit the ground in Cannes, courting producers around non-traditional formats that were built specifically for the social media platform.

At the time, “move fast” was understood to be the mantra among execs keen to commission content for the fledgling Watch service, which had been launched in the US just months before.

However, in the past year, few producers outside America have seen much movement in the way of business from the platform, and some have complained of being confused by Facebook’s brief around commissioning traditional producers and content creators.

Patrick Walker (right), director of media partnerships for Europe, Middle East and Africa, admits that “the programmes [Facebook] will actually fund and commission will be few,” forming a “very small percentage” of the content rolling out on Watch.

“There was a bigger emphasis around commissioning shows last year in North America as we started,” with shows such as Ball In The Family and Humans Of New York.

Walker says the platform is now in a new phase of “opening up to an ecosystem that’s a sustainable business for the creative community,” meaning that Facebook is increasingly looking to empower all kinds of content creators – not just the TV industry.

“One of the reasons we’ve been keen to launch the ad break program [which inserts ads on three-minute-plus content] and expand it in the UK, Germany, France, Spain and other markets, is that there are a lot of partners who have waited for a monetization opportunity independent of any funding or commissioning,” says Walker.

“It is much more scalable to let 1,000 flowers bloom through a monetisation model that people can jump into, either with clips or shows they’ve already produced.”

While this can appeal to influencers with large followings – such as Jada Pinkett Smith, who launched weekly talk show Red Table Talk (pictured, top) on Facebook via her production banner Westbrook Entertainment – it also applies to the likes of Endemol and Fremantle, which have a lot of short-form content that is longer than three minutes.

However, with the US offering now well on its way to becoming established – Facebook claims that around 50 million viewers Stateside use Watch per month – the service rolled out internationally in late-August, bringing with it new opportunities to commission content “either with producers in the UK or in different languages across Europe.”

“We are trying to look at the potential not only in commissioned scripted and unscripted shows, but also across new types of formats that might work in this market,” according to Walker.

Early greenlights include Facebook’s first non-US weekly news program, Cut Through The Noise – a partnership with BBC News; as well as 5 x 6-minute acquisition Troy The Magician from the UK’s Zig Zag Productions.

Gameshow opportunity

Gameshow formats, in particular, are a target area for Facebook, which revealed in June that it would be ramping up interactive content across the platform, such as a polling and gameplay, which sees a creator making a set of questions and players getting eliminated from the game when they answer incorrectly.

One key example is daily trivia show Confetti, which is filmed every day at 6.30pm out of Facebook’s Los Angeles studio, and challenges users to answer pop culture trivia questions alongside their friends. Players can see which friends are playing at the same time, as well as how they answered questions.

While that show – which closely resembles the wildly popular trivia app HQ Trivia – is only available to US audiences, a version of it could be launched outside America.

“We’re interested in seeing what sort of formats may work [in Europe] around the gamification of content, and what would lend itself on a country-by-country basis to new types of partnerships and relationships.”

Tapping into groups is “important,” says Walker. “With the shows we are investing in, there is a real sense of community and discussion around topics.”

While the exec remains vague about tariffs – which are said to range from US$10,000-$40,000 per minute for short-form, to around $250,000-$1 million for long-form programs – he notes that “terms evolve over time” and that there are “different iterations” around rights positions.

“Whether a piece of content is specifically created and commissioned or integrated into our platform uniquely or it’s something where we are taking the IP and repurposing, the terms will be very broad and different depending on all sorts of factors.”

A baseline metric for most content creators is a revenue share model where they can expect 55% of ad-break revenue, while Facebook takes 45%.

Walker notes that Facebook – which has been rumored to be hiring an entertainment boss in the UK – will indeed be building out its team, and hiring more execs in London, Berlin, Paris, Milan and Dubai. These execs will support both traditional media publishers and “facilitate relationships” with creators, public figures, artists and celebrities.

“As we expand into these different languages and regions, we want to have a more robust face-to-face relationship with partners in the market,” he says.

Watch parties

Facebook’s head of global creative strategy Ricky Van Veen (pictured, right) ruffled feathers at NATPE Miami in January when he outlined the vision for Watch, noting that the series working best on the platform were those that dropped at regular times during the week – much like timeslots in the linear world of ‘appoint-to-view’, grumbled some delegates.

Facebook has since refined the strategy into two streams: Watch Premieres and Watch Parties.

The former does exactly what it says on the tin, previewing content such as trailers or an episode to users.

“What’s fun is that you can give people a head’s up and send notifications using the news feed, and when the premiere happens, you have all these wonderful social features as if it was a live feed of something. You have, on average, ten times more engagement than if it was just on VOD,” says Walker.

Meanwhile, Watch Parties let creators or public figures mobilize their followers and manage an ongoing playlist of pre-existing videos. Some have lasted for ten hours.

“It’s a way for group admins to gather people around a theme, certain niche areas or communities to consume video in a truly social way.”

So, is Facebook and its Watch Parties ultimately just mirroring the broadcast world?

“It’s not mimicking TV because Watch Parties are instigated by someone at a time that’s convenient to them, involving the community for a truly socially interactive experience which you can’t really get on TV,” says Walker.

“It’s more akin to a campfire, where you’re gathering people around and sharing what they want to share, with people commenting and participating. Or in the case of sports, it would be a virtual stadium where you can actually see the people in the stadium, communicate with them and give them a thumbs up.”