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Facebook's mini-network initiative is part of the company's aggressive push into video.
The Watch video platform, announced Wednesday, is Facebook's new home for episodic shows and live events. Publishers include Group Nine Media, Hearst, Condé Nast Entertainment, Refinery 29 and NASA, with more companies to be announced. CNBC spoke to several media companies who have signed deals to produce at least one paid Facebook Watch show. Here's what the company was telling them about Watch, and what viewers can expect.
Facebook paid to have first-rights to series
Two companies said they were paid between $10,000 to $25,000 per episode for their shows. They'll also receive 55 percent of the ad revenue while Facebook takes the rest.
In a move that could be seen as a direct competitive move to YouTube, paid series have to debut episodes on Facebook, according to the publishers. However, they are allowed to move episodes off-platform to their own owned-and-operated players or YouTube after a certain period of time. Though Facebook was encouraging publishers to use their player off-site, the goal is to get as many people watching Facebook shows on Facebook itself, multiple sources said.
If Facebook succeeds in getting more people to watch its original series on its platform, it could help the company solve a major issue they are facing: Having too many ads. The company has acknowledged its NewsFeed is growing overstuffed with ads. If people watch shows, they'll be spending more time on Facebook. That would allow the company to charge more for ads because users are more engaged, without having to increase the number of ads on the platform.
Compelling shows could also encourage more people to use Facebook, especially in light of reports teen use is declining as more users migrate to Snapchat.
Facebook is looking for something resembling traditional TV
All the media companies CNBC spoke to said Facebook is looking for traditional shows, where producers could submit episodes ahead of time. Each show will get a dedicated show page where old episodes will be kept. Facebook had a range of topics of shows they wanted, and came to specific media companies specialized in those niches to fill their order, according to some publishers.
There were no restrictions on episode length, with the requirement being the shows lasted between two and 240 minutes an episode, one source said. Most producers are making shows within the 5 to 10 minute range.
How Watch shows are different from videos that are already on Facebook
Many companies already produce original videos for Facebook. But while you may happen on these short clips while scrolling through your NewsFeed, Watch shows are meant to be tuned into regularly. The Watch platform itself is more curated, with editors deciding which content to feature rather than recommendations just based off user likes and dislikes.
Quartz, for example, will be producing three documentary-style shows for Watch with two expected to roll out later this month. "Machines with Brains" looks at what it means to be human in an age of artificial intelligence and robots, while "Because Science" will be a narrative explainer that mixes animation and live footage. Another series will tackle exploration.
"The main goal is not something that will catch their eye as they are scrolling through their feed, but create things people will watch," said Quartz executive producer Solana Pyne.
Watch shows aren't likely meant to compete against Netflix or Snapchat; their typical length and style suggests instead the company wants to compete with YouTube.
Media companies have come to rely on YouTube as the primary means of reaching an audience -- but if Facebook is paying them, they're more open to using it first.
The two platforms can potentially coexist. One source said YouTube was a better home for its existing community, where Facebook's NewsFeed could help them connect with a new audience.
There's one more glaring question: Are audiences willing to watch lengthier content on Facebook as opposed to YouTube, where people are used to watching longer videos? Facebook may have been quietly training its users to watch longer videos to prepare for the change. One producer noticed Facebook's algorithm began favoring videos over two minutes as opposed to shorter clips about five months ago.
Facebook said it ranks content based on how relevant it is to the user, which can include factors like how long a user watches a video, how many they watch to the end, and whether or not they watch with sound.