Video Eats World

Amazon is making waves in the video space and now Facebook is dipping its toe in the water too. This is streaming wars: the battle for your eyeballs – where providers spend billions on exclusive content for a competitive edge. But how long is this sustainable for and what is the cost for audiences?

Video Eats World

iPlayer. ITV Hub. All 4. Sky Go. YouTube. Netflix. Snapchat Discover. Amazon Prime Video. Now TV. TalkTalk. And now: Facebook Watch.

The evolving video landscape shifted again this month with the announcement of ‘Watch’ – the new home for original video on Facebook.

Watch is comprised of shows, which are produced exclusively for Facebook by its partners. What differs Watch from other products is there is no long-form content (at least for now) and users are encouraged to interact with and build a community around their favourite videos.

It is a brand new and untested product and whether there is a market for it remains to be seen. What we do know is you can add Facebook the long list of providers battling for your eyeballs, clamouring for a piece of the video pie (and video ad spend). The video space is suddently starting to feel very crowded – so how long is this sustainable for?

This isn’t a bad thing for consumers. Quite the opposite, there has been no better time to be a viewer. More competition means better content as providers try to outdo one another, while better tech means it’s all accessible at the click of a button. The demand is there too, with the average UK consumer watching 4.5 hours of video a day – 3.5 hours of which are on traditional linear TV, although this is in decline.

Facebook isn’t the only internet giant looking to capitalise on the massive appetite for video. Amazon Video recently made its first major live TV sports right deal outside the USA by snatching the rights to the ATP World Tour from Sky, meaning from 2018 the streaming service will have the rights to almost all top-flight men’s tennis outside the four grand slam tournaments. It means tennis fans now need to buy an Amazon Prime subscription costing £79 a year – in addition to their presumed ongoing subscriptions to Sky and BT Sport – to watch their favourite sport.

In a congested market, such exclusivity provides a competitive edge. It is the reason Netflix is currently spending $6 billion on exclusive content, why Disney is leaving Netflix to start its own (yet another) streaming service and why the likes of Sky and BT will be anxiously looking over their shoulders at Amazon at the next live Premier League football rights auction.

And as the war for eyeballs continues, the harder companies will fight for exclusive rights. It seems likely that, moving forward, the rights for video content will become increasingly spread across a growing number of providers, further fragmenting the market and creating a more confusing (and expensive) world for video consumers.

The argument against exclusive deals on music streaming services such as Tidal and Apple Music is that it alienates fans and, as such, is not viable from a long-term business perspective. While the consumption habits of music and video are very different, you can imagine many football fans, for example, would not follow Premier League football on to Amazon Video and the sport would suffer as a result. Similarly, as the likes of Amazon continue gaining exclusive content and TV moves towards a streaming-first industry, we are likely to see audiences become more walled off since many customers won’t be able to subscribe to everything.

Facebook is not (for the time being at least) interested in competing with TV or even Netflix and Amazon Video – they would have to invest a lot of money to do so and there is no indication they want to invest in long-form content just yet. But there is a sense that Watch is just Facebook dipping its toe in the water, with a bigger end goal in sight. Look at Facebook Live; for almost a year Periscope was the go-to place for live streaming before Facebook – late to the market, in classic Facebook style – rolled out Live and demolished the competition. Could the same happen with long-form video content? There is a lot more stood in the way, but who knows.

In 2015, at Facebook’s developer conference F8, Mark Zuckerberg made it clear he wants Facebook to be more than just a single blue app. He wanted it to be a family of apps. Immediately, journalists rushed to their laptops to warn us how the social network was eating the internet. Others say Facebook is eating the internet while Amazon is eating the world. If video is the most-consumed media in that world and two of the top four internet companies in the world want a piece of it – who’s to say how far they will go for ownership.

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