Facebook Watch, the social network's new video site, starts rolling out Thursday. Watch is the social network's first attempt to showcase videos made specifically for Facebook — and change the way we watch video in the process.
Or perhaps more accurately, it's mashing up the many ways we watch and communicate around video into a way that best suits Facebook.
But how can Watch fit into your media diet? To figure it out, it's best to take a look at the way it pulls features from other video sites. In addition to drawing from Facebook's own Instagram and Facebook Live products, Watch combines elements of YouTube, Twitter and traditional TV.
Like YouTube, Watch will support professional content creators, whom users can follow and save for viewing at any time. Right now, Facebook is allowing only certain people to make shows after they go through an application process but will eventually let anyone create their own content.
Facebook is also emulating the community live-watching experience of Twitter — or any live service that supports chat, such as Amazon's Twitch — which means fans will be able to
trash-talk troll connect with each other as events unfold.
And, taking a page from traditional television, Facebook Watch will feature shows that will “air” at regular times as live shows, and may have an actual story arc. It will also carry one professional baseball game a week. That doesn't exactly make it the new ESPN, but it does mean Watch is offering something that viewers still primarily see only on traditional airwaves.
Of course, it's also doing some things that are quintessentially Facebook. For one, there's a sort of personal feed of shows, based on what your friends watch. It also takes people's responses to shows into account: Shows that get a lot of “haha” reactions on Facebook will be included in the “What's Making People Laugh” section of the feed.
It's easy to think of this as Facebook's attempt to “kill TV.” But while it's tempting to see this as the social network's answer to Netflix or even Disney's as-yet-unnamed streaming service, Watch's prime competitor out there actually seems to be YouTube.
And viewers should think of it that way. This isn't for prestige television, for binge-watching marathons or even for more traditional show formats. Watch is primarily a place for shorter, snackable and — above all — social content.
That doesn't mean, however, that it won't be designed to draw you into long viewing sessions overall, by suggesting videos and attempting to pull you down its version of a YouTube rabbit hole. For Facebook, like YouTube, video provides a way to keep your eyeballs glued to your screen and its app.
And by focusing first on polished, professionally produced shows — such as one starring “Dirty Jobs” host Mike Rowe — Facebook starts Watch with an emphasis on high-quality programming. That's a push that YouTube started making later in its life cycle, primarily in the past several years, culminating in the launch of its subscription service YouTube Red.
Whether Facebook will eventually be able to charge for its content, or would even want to, remains to be seen.
Facebook is starting Watch's rollout in the United States with a limited group of people, with promises to expand to everyone “soon.” But now you know what to expect, whenever you finally see that “Watch” tab pop up on your own feed.