It’s been a big week for video on Facebook. The social networking giant announced it will test a “dedicated place” on Facebook where users can go “when they exclusively want to watch video—whether that’s videos they’ve saved for later, or videos from friends, Pages they follow, and other video publishers on Facebook.” Those videos will be “relevant” to users, to use one of Facebook’s favorite terms. The new section, the company says, will let us watch, discover, and share videos that Facebook thinks we’d like—and “Like.”
All of which sounds awfully similar to another “dedicated place” to watch videos online: YouTube.
In the past year, Facebook has been rapidly encroaching on YouTube’s turf as the place to catch a BuzzFeed clip or Star Wars preview. In April, Facebook said it surpassed four billion daily video views as it continues encouraging users to embed videos natively on its site. Last month, Facebook’s ad product lead Ted Zagat said “a year or two from now, we think Facebook will be mostly video.” Now, Facebook is testing new video-specific features, like the new video section and immersive VR-like 360-degree video in the hopes of making moving pictures an even more prominent part of the Facebook experience.
Behind it all, a question lingers: what will this mean for Google’s YouTube, which until now has been the unchallenged king of video on the web? People watch a lot of video online—a Millward Brown study this week found that Gen Xers watch as much digital video as TV, much like millennials and teens do. Earlier this year, I wrote that Facebook isn’t a threat to YouTube yet, mostly because, well, Facebook users use Facebook differently than they use YouTube. You probably use Facebook to see what’s happening in the world, whereas you head to YouTube to hang out to watch videos.
Facebook, however, seems keen on narrowing that divide. While video remains something you might stumble upon in your feed, the tech company wants to make video a destination and make it easier for you to find what you want. It wants its 1.49 billion users to think “Facebook” when they want to watch videos. For YouTube, the time to sound the alarms may have finally arrived.
“Video on Facebook has so far not been a problem for Google as almost all of it has been shared to Facebook via YouTube,” says Richard Windsor, an analyst at Edison Investment Research. “This has meant that Google has still had access to the data generated from users watching videos within their News Feeds.”
But over the past 18 months, such cross-linking has shrunk radically, Windsor says. He reports that 70 percent of videos on Facebook are being uploaded directly compared to just 25 percent in early 2014.
Facebook isn’t just coming for YouTube. It’s starting to catch up.
In an effort to make video-viewing more compatible with the scroll-y nature of the News Feed, Facebook is testing other features that mimic YouTube’s. Find yourself wanting to skip videos because you don’t want to pull out your headphones on the bus? No worries, Facebook is testing a “Saved” bookmark so you can come back to videos later. (YouTube lets you do that, too.)
Want to multi-task on Facebook? The company is testing a way for you to watch videos in a “floating screen” in the corner as you scroll through the rest of your feed. (YouTube has been there, done that.)
The company has also, unsurprisingly, been working on suggesting videos similar to ones you’ve already seen in the past. (Remind you of anything?) The company says that the tests show that people to whom it’s made the suggested video feature available are watching more new videos, which is exactly what Facebook wants.
It’s also exactly what advertisers want. “Facebook and Google are currently running neck and neck when it comes to spending by advertisers on digital video, but all the momentum is currently with Facebook,” Windsor says. He adds that Facebook videos elicit better interaction and comments, which help advertisers better understand who they’re advertising to.
Video is becoming increasingly central to our experience of the web and mobile platforms, where advertisers are anxious to reach us there. But Facebook and YouTube are not the only ones seeking to score with video online. Everyone from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and HBO to Comcast, Verizon, and even NBC are hoping to increase the number of viewers who subscribe to their online services—or head to them first when they want to watch video. Could Facebook one day compete with these more dedicated video services, becoming, say, our new TV? “I would not be surprised to see Facebook launch a premium video offering over time,” Windsor says.
Facebook, after all, wants to capture your attention for as long as it can. And you only have so much time and attention to give. Whether it means allowing you to multitask, save things for later, find the things you really want to watch, when it comes to video, Facebook will be there for you, the company says. As your News Feed morphs into a never-ending stream of videos, turning Facebook into a “dedicated place” for TV and films starts to make a whole lot of sense.Go Back to Top. Skip To: Start of Article.