Facebook takes on YouTube with video service

Buy, buy, baby: Facebook has bought over 50 companies in order to acquire their staff or product.

The social network has begun to roll out Watch, its new video tab. The product looks set to shake up the online streaming industry. Is Facebook becoming dangerously big?

Mark Zuckerberg likes video. Facebook’s boss predicts that within a few years, it will account for most of the content you see on his social network. Yesterday that future just got a lot closer.

Facebook has started rolling out its new video service, Watch. Users will initially get access to a few dozen series from partner networks. The company will also commission original shows. Eventually, it intends to open Watch to the public, allowing anyone to upload videos and take a cut of the ad revenue.

This being Facebook, the emphasis is on social. Each show will have a comment section and content will be displayed in categories like “What friends are watching.” The idea is to replace the current mishmash of animal videos and random media clips in your news feed with a more organised, appealing database. Basically, to be more like YouTube.

This is classic Facebook. The tech giant keeps a close watch on industry trends and innovations. According to The Wall Street Journal, it uses internal “early bird” technology to track start-ups. When it spots a successful company, it usually does one of two things.

Sometimes, it uses its massive wealth to buy the company. It did this to Instagram and WhatsApp. Facebook is so influential that its acquisitions can kick-start a whole industry. When it bought Oculus, the virtual reality developer, rival companies started investing in the technology too.

In other cases, Facebook simply copies the company. After its $3 billion offer to buy Snapchat was turned down, it started integrating the best bits of Snapchat into its own products. Subsequently Snapchat’s growth slowed. YouTube has reasons to be scared of Watch.

The trouble for its rivals is that Facebook is so big. It boasts almost two billion users and took $28 billion in revenues last year. With each acquisition, its reach increases. If it copies your product, chances are its version will be more popular and sophisticated than yours.

Is the social network just too powerful?

Watch out

“Absolutely,” say some. It is a vicious circle: the more users Facebook attracts, the more money and personal data it amasses, the more effective its products become. Start-ups cannot compete, and the whole industry suffers. People on both sides of the political divide are talking about regulating the company. That would be a good start.

“You’re exaggerating,” reply others. The fact that Facebook keeps having to buy or copy rivals shows that start-ups are thriving. If anything, by matching the brightest ideas in tech with its huge resources, it ensures that we get the best products imaginable. Plus, size is exactly what we want from it. Who would sign up to a social network with no users?

You Decide

  1. Has this article changed your mind about using Facebook (or Instagram or WhatsApp)?
  2. Is Mark Zuckerberg the most powerful person in the world?

Activities

  1. In groups, record a one-minute video in which you explain whether you think Watch will work, and why.
  2. What new feature would you most like to see on Facebook? Write a detailed proposal for the company’s executives.

Some People Say...

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Watch will be rolled out across the USA over the next few weeks before going global. Launch content includes an interactive show featuring a motivational speaker and a cooking programme involving kids. Facebook paid for some of these shows, but it plans to stop doing so eventually. It wants to encourage users to create their own content; it will then split ad revenue with them 45–55.
What do we not know?
Whether Watch will take off. A lot of this depends on how it deals with some predictable problems. For instance, will it create echo chambers, in which users are only shown content that they already agree with? To what extent will it crack down on inappropriate videos? And will users really move away from YouTube, a very popular website? Time will tell.

Word Watch

New video service
Technically, Watch is a revamp of Facebook’s existing video tab. It will be available in the app and on the website.
Early bird
According to The Wall Street Journal’s sources, this technology stems from Facebook’s acquisition of start-up Onavo, whose app “secures users’ privacy by routing their traffic through private servers. The app gives Facebook an unusually detailed look at what users collectively do on their phones.”
Turned down
Snapchat boss Evan Spiegel was mocked for turning down the offer, made in 2013, which would have made him very rich. But he had the last laugh: in March this year, his company was valued at $28 billion.
Best bits
For instance, Facebook cloned Snapchat’s Stories feature, which allows users to create temporary photo and video montages.
YouTube
YouTube is owned by Google.
Almost two billion users
If Facebook’s community were a country, it would be the most populous in the world.
Both sides
This kind of “antitrust” regulation is more popular with Democrats. But President Trump’s senior advisor Steve Bannon is reported to be considering it.