The news that Facebook is developing an app that will let its users easily watch video from the site on their smart TVs should not come as much of a surprise. Last year, Mark Zuckerberg said that he expected the site to be mostly video within five years, and it has been steadily increasing the amount of video that we see in our feeds for quite a while. It has also developed new video products, including live video, and is even paying advertising money to encourage users to share their live moments.
The app, revealed by the WSJ last month, and confirmed by Facebook earlier this month is a natural extension to this. It will make it easy for people to connect their smart TVs to Facebook, or allow them to connect through devices like Amazon's Fire Stick. In the UK, over 30% of households have a smart TV, and if you include cheaper devices like Chromecast that make older TVs smart, it's probably closer to 40%.
The utility of Facebook's app will be useful for people like me who don't often have the time to watch videos in our feeds while we're at work, but instead queue them up to see when we get home. Facebook is relatively late to the party with this, as Twitter developed one last year when it started to stream live NFL games, and other video-focussed apps like Red Bull TV have also long offered this functionality.
The real opportunity though, will come with the way this is likely to change the nature of the video that is being shared. Currently Facebook's video content is almost exclusively short form, meant to be shared and seen in the news feed, which is inherently a 'lean in' experience. TV is generally a lean back medium, so putting Facebook video onto it will mean that the content will need to be different, and specifically longer.
Facebook is talking to content producers about making exclusive programming. Last year it paid a number of producers, including the BBC, to make live video specifically to share on Facebook, but now it's focussing more on the longer content. Almost all of Facebook's revenues come from advertising, and it's pretty clear that longer form content is a better match for ads than short, live videos. Longer form content can also have natural breaks built in, for example between scenes, ideal for Facebook to put ads into.
Another development to factor in is Facebook's TV advertising test, which started last year. Through a partnership with History Channel and others, it is serving ads into breaks in programmes when people watch on Apple TV, or Roku. This means that people watching shows can be targeted with ads in the same way as if they were on Facebook, based on their likes, their location, and a myriad of other factors. This is only a test, and we have not had any information as to whether it was a success or not, but it definitely seems like the sort of thing that could work well and could be very useful to advertisers.
If we put all of the parts of the jigsaw together, it looks like we could soon see a transformed Facebook with the potential to have a place in people's TVs as well as their other screens. There are a lot of 'ifs' in this, but the move into TV could be as revolutionary as their big move into mobile just five years ago.