Let me start off by saying that Facebook TV doesn't even exist. As we follow the evolution of internet TV with bated breath, much of the conversation has revolved around platforms coming from Google and Apple. And it sounds like Microsoft is primed to make a big play in the space as well with Xbox Live, with added potential for interactive video with Kinect. Yet we've seen Google struggle of late, with the major networks and Hulu blocking much of their content from the search giant's platform. And if I'm like the typical cord-cutting consumer that relies on internet TV for viewing current episodes, I'm going to want those networks.
Google TV and Apple TV
Leadership at these networks clearly and correctly sees Google as a threat. Google's intent with the project all along has been to create a content-aggregating platform around which it can serve video ads. Obviously, this is a potential threat to the content establishment. Google's not getting that piece of pie unless it offers a tasty slice in return. But I'm certainly not writing the platform off so stay tuned on Google TV.
Meanwhile, Apple TV has debuted to lovely fanfare with an arguably superior-UI and much easier setup compared to the Google offering. The primary downside is that content is limited to the iTunes library, Netflix, and Youtube for now, and that there isn't a great purchase option. I would love to buy "cloud-rights" and be able to stream a piece of content again at a point in the future. Not so impressive when I can get a Blu-Ray player for the same price that offers apps for Netflix, Amazon, Youtube, Hulu, plus some really random content such as golf tips, relaxing nature images, and a Third Eye Blind concert. And can provide a superior viewing experience when watching that disc of The Dark Knight.
Regardless, most of these internet TV platforms have potential and are a substantial improvement from a steep monthly cable bill. We're really just watching baby steps at this point anyways and there are some exciting dark horses out there too such as Boxee and Roku.
Facebook has been mum on the subject with the exception of Hulu offering Watch Now functionality that links out to their site. But we all know this company does a decent job of keeping projects under wrap.
So on to Facebook TV, the nonexistent internet TV platform that would be king. And though it doesn't exist, has Mark Zuckerberg realized there's potential here? Very likely yes.
What would Facebook TV look like? It would a light web-based app for your TV, set-top box, desktop, or mobile phone. It would aggregate content from all over the web, allowing you to access your favorite singing-baby videos on Youtube, the latest feature releases via Netflix or Amazon, and maybe even your favorite Hulu shows. Right alongside this is a feed of your friends' latest Facebook videos: from sloppy mobile-uploads of last night's birthday party to the carefully produced iMovie of the newly born grandchild.
You could then invite your online friends to watch any of this content with you in real time, chatting comments back and forth, making online video a much more social experience.
At the core of this experience would be a powerful content delivery network from a site that preaches "uptime uptime uptime" and has the resources to practice that same message. All this engineered by some of the sharpest minds in Silicon Valley.
We're also making an assumption here that Facebook would negotiate content rights with a more diplomatic approach than Google must be taking. And approaching the scared, bleeding animal that is Old Media with a potentially threatening business model could prove as big a challenge for powerful Team-Zuckerberg as it has been for their chief rivals.
Why Facebook TV Would be a Winner
Moving beyond the necessary assumption of successful content negotiations, Facebook TV would still have several key differentiators over its competition:
- Prebuilt User Base
- A Killer Micropayment System
- Social Interactivity
Prebuilt User Base = High Adoption
Factoring in the usual Facebook stats (as cited by social network), we know there's already a substantial user-base of more than half a billion. Among this group, there are 200 million mobile users actively consuming content. I don't know user stats for Google TV, which is currently limited to new Sony devices and the Logitech Revue box, but I bet it's a few less.
Facebook also ranked third in terms of unique video viewers according to comScore's Video Metrix Report, with 52 million people watching content this past September (always good analysis on this report by ReelSEO). The only sites ahead of Facebook were Google and Yahoo sites, respectively, and Yahoo was barely ahead by 2 million viewers.
On average, Facebook viewers watched 18.5 minutes of video per month, putting the site in a similar range with NBC Universal's and Fox Interactive Media's.. While this pales in comparison to Hulu's average of 162 minutes, for a site that isn't primarily purposed for video Facebook's stats aren't bad. People are already watching video on Facebook and if they delivered a good TV app for a majority of popular platforms, it would gain adoption.
Killer Micropayment System = More People Pay
According to Facebook, already half of the games on site are using their Credits system to sell virtual goods. So you can plop $30 real ones into a Credits account and it becomes lots of cute little icons, helping you feel less guilty when buying animals for your virtual farm instead of buying them for farms in developing countries.
Joking aside, there's something to that. The ability to painlessly make small payments for entertainment content – on both a practical and psychological level – is a good thing for video as well. When I have a virtual piggy bank loaded with 100 credits, it's easy to spend 10 of those on that Modern Family episode.
And I'd be able to pay for a friend to join me for only 8 ($0.80) more? Count me in. Or maybe I could get 10 friends together and collectively chip in 75 Credits ($7.50) to gain access to the exclusive viewing room where the cast is chatting up fans.
Social Interactivity = Ability to Grow Viewership
I've already alluded to the ability to watch content with one's friends on this platform, which is a fun benefit to users. But by leveraging the social nature of Facebook, what we really have is an opportunity for networks, studios, and independent filmmakers to grow their audience and open new streams of revenue.
If I were a network head, the uniquely social aspect of Facebook TV is probably the most enticing feature of the platform for me. Continuing the Modern Family example, ABC could offer a discount of 5 Credits per episode to all the people that have "Liked" the show. They could also push exclusive sneak-peeks to these users' Facebook TV home screens, waiting for them when they log on. ABC and Facebook could also sell exclusive sponsorship for each episode, granting free viewing to the first 50,000 fans who post that week's exclusive clip to their profile, which they could do with one click from their Facebook TV interface.
This is just one example of how Facebook TV and its content partners could leverage the social, sharing behavior we see so prevalently on the social network…and on pirate sites. By making content inexpensive, easy to access, and more fun, everybody wins.
So that's my pitch for the online TV platform that could be truly great. Good for viewers, good for content owners, and certainly good for Facebook. For now, I'm crossing my fingers and hoping the social network has already thought this through and plans to announce it at the holidays.
If not, Mark, feel free to drop a line and let's get planning for next year…
About our Guest Expert - Nathan Evans
With a background in film production and advertising, Nathan Evans is developing video services at Location3 Media, a top digital advertising agency in Denver, CO. Nathan tweets on filmmaking, advertising, and random cool things @jnathanevans.