Facebook’s Watch video-streaming service is rolling out worldwide, just over a year after its US launch.
Users will be able to choose from a range of shows – from both established brands and new players – and have the ability to view clips saved from their News Feeds.
The firm plans to allow all content creators to feature advertising breaks, so long as they hit certain metrics.
Until now, only select publishers had been given the opportunity.
To begin with, only videos shown to audiences in the UK, US, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand will have this facility.
The revenue split will be 55% to the creators and 45% to Facebook.
Facebook had intended to reveal the roll-out on Wednesday but brought forward the announcement after details leaked. As a consequence, some users may not be able to access its pages yet.
Watch is often portrayed as a rival to Google’s YouTube, but it also competes for attention against traditional TV channels as well as online outlets including Netflix, Amazon Video, BBC iPlayer and Facebook’s own Instagram TV.
A study published last week suggests that it only had niche appeal in its first year in the US.
Of 1,632 adult Facebook users questioned, 50% had never heard of Watch, while 24% said they were aware of the on-demand service but had never used it, according to the Diffusion Group.
Only 14% told the market research firm that they used it at least once a week.
Another report noted that although some Watch shows had attracted audiences numbering in their millions, they often struggled to retain them.
“This seems to be a pattern with most Facebook Watch shows: lots of people sample, few return,” wrote Verne Gay for Newsday.
Even so, some big name stars have been involved in original programming made for the platform.
- Jada Pinkett Smith, who headlines the talk show Red Table Talk
- Elizabeth Olsen, who stars in the forthcoming drama Sorry For Your Loss about a woman grieving for her husband
- Bear Grylls, the British adventurer, who hosts a reality show Face the Wild
ABC, Fox News, Vice and Buzzfeed are among others who have made content for the service.
Facebook claims that its advantage against other platforms is the ways Watch helps viewers interact with others.
“It is built on the notion that watching video doesn’t have to be a passive experience,” explained Fidji Simo, Facebook’s vice-president of video.
“You can have a two-way conversation about the content with friends, other fans or even the creators themselves.”
She added that a Watch Party feature lets users co-ordinate themselves to watch a show together, while an Interactivity Platform allows creators to run polls, challenges and quizzes to boost engagement.
Facebook says the most common feedback it had from creators over the past year was a call for it to allow more of them to include ad breaks.
To qualify publishers must:
- have created videos lasting longer than three minutes
- have attracted more than 30,000 viewers who stayed for more than one minute when watching the content over the past two months
- have more than 10,000 followers
- be located in one of the countries where the ad break facility is available
One industry watcher predicted the terms would appeal to established independent video-makers, some of whom have been concerned at the way Google’s YouTube has run its own advertising programme.
“For a very long time YouTube had the monopoly on online video when it came to offering creators a way to make money from adverts,” commented Alex Brinnand, editor of TenEighty magazine.
“And for a while now, many creators have been looking for other potential revenue streams – some have started using [Amazon’s] Twitch for example.
“So, this will be welcomed as it provides further options.”
Facebook said that a second wave of countries – including France, Germany, Norway, Mexico and Thailand would receive ad breaks in September.
The BBC is not providing content to Facebook Watch, but has not ruled out doing so in the future.
“We’ve got a strong track record collaborating and experimenting with social media platforms to engage with BBC audiences,” said a spokesman.
“We continue to watch the market closely and explore options for the future.”