The ever-gestating business of online video just took a very big step into adulthood when Facebook announced last week that it would begin sharing ad revenues with some video creators, just as Google has done through YouTube for years.
The announcement opened up what is arguably the largest off-YouTube video platform out there (others include Twitter, Vine, Instagram, DailyMotion, Vessel, and Vimeo on Demand). With 1.4 billion users, Facebook is the world’s biggest distributor of online content, much of it driven by people who don’t have a direct way to get paid for their work.
Facebook has always been an important way for fans to follow video creators. But now that Facebook will give creators a direct financial incentive to post great content, expect to see online video take off on the site. And that’s on top of what already has been a dynamic segment since Facebook began offering native video-playback last year. Already, video views have skyrocketed to 315 billion in the first quarter of 2015. That’s still less than half YouTube’s 756 billion views, but overall an astonishing number. Imagine what will happen when creators actually get paid.
In a Silicon Beach Fest panel I appeared on two weeks ago, creators and talent managers from several big content-distribution networks (a.k.a. MPNs or MCNs) on YouTube and Vine were already welcoming Facebook’s signals about possible revenue partnerships. But the change brings with it many questions. Here are the five most important ones:
1. How long will it take current video creators to optimize their work for Facebook? Facebook and YouTube may look alike, but they are very different media. Facebook is focused on sharing, community, and consumption in a feed instead of search. Viewers get hooked with a video edit that takes advantage of autoplay in feed on Facebook as opposed to the search and thumbnail optimization on YouTube. Creators will need to find tools and best practices to perfect their new Facebook business.
2. YouTube is known for gaming, fashion, and beauty, but what genres will be the break-out hits on Facebook? Just as we saw the video gaming industry expanded into whole new hit genres for Facebook, we’re likely to see a parallel with video. It might not be gaming and beauty. What about moms, scripted dramas, sports, or automotive? We’ve already seen recent stars like Dude Perfect, the trick-shot specialists who did an NBC segment for this year’s Super Bowl pre-game show. On YouTube, they have 5.9 million subscribers. On Facebook, they have more than 13 million. Who will be the next Facebook stars to come up?
3. How long will it take multi-channel networks to adapt? Networks have resident knowledge in YouTube. Multi-channel networks are both trying to help YouTube stars grow on Facebook and trying to identify the rising Facebook stars in their stables. Leveraging these new stars and growing other creators on Facebook is the next big opportunity for the MCNs.
4 How long will it take Facebook to accommodate and build up the “middle class” and long tail of content creators? YouTube and online video is fueled by a depth of creators that build passionate engaged communities of all sizes. This is also the breeding ground for new talent. The middle and long tail are critical to the business and have very different operational needs than the top 1 percent. Unlike the big publishers, it takes much more than a business development deal to get tens of thousands of individual creators operating using best practices. It took YouTube years to develop tools and APIs for creators, networks, and third-party tool providers, but when it did, it really energized a community of creators that has yielded a breadth of content and new stars. Building similar creator tools on Facebook is a non-trivial component of the company’s likely long-term success with video.
5. How fast will brands take advantage of the new stars? Brands should love Facebook’s new content creators, who may be older, with a broader range of interests than YouTube’s younger-skewing stars. And with Facebook’s deep demographic data of its stars’ communities, advertisers will have another tool for reaching targeted audiences.
One final point: Facebook won’t replace YouTube. Instead, it’s an additive trend, the substantive start of a really viable new online-video platform that serves different audiences, viewer behaviors, and business opportunities. I expect we’ll see other platforms that capture consumer attention follow suit sooner or later. This is a great big step forward, for lots and lots of companies, including mine. How we and our clients and audiences figure out how to take advantage of it will help shape the future of online video and the entire entertainment industry.
Juan Bruce is the cofounder and CEO at Epoxy.tv, a technology company for creators to distribute videos, engage with fans, and measure the reach of their content across the social web.