Facebook launched Watch in August 2017 as a hub for video content. Users can follow series, and the platform recommends videos based on user behavior. The initiative is a way for the company to tap into digital video advertising, an industry worth $28 billion in 2018 according to eMarketer. Facebook has invested more than $1 billion buying original shows and content for Watch, per Variety.
But the service is not thriving, and many media buyers are ignoring it.
In August, the company said about 50 million U.S. users each month view Watch content. It's a tiny audience compared with YouTube, which said in May it had 1.8 billion logged-in viewers each month. Facebook acknowledged in a meeting with publishers in October that a lot of users are not familiar the Watch brand, according to one company in attendance.
In addition, Sarah Madigan, who was on the deal team for Facebook original series, left the company recently for MGM, according to her LinkedIn account. She previously was a director of content acquisition for Netflix.
At the same time, teens are losing interest in Facebook overall. A recent Piper Jaffray report showed only 36 percent of teens used Facebook at least once a month during fall 2018, down from 52 percent just two years ago.
With these trends in mind, Facebook is now soliciting video content for older users in hopes of making Watch more relevant.
In talks with at least three media companies, Facebook has hinted it wants Watch shows aimed at post-college millennials around parenting age and older. One media company said Facebook was asking them for shows hosted by traditional celebrities rather than social media stars. Facebook responded most positively to talent in their 30s through 50s.
Another company said Facebook said it wanted shows for a broad audience, but not focused on anyone who was under the age of 20. Any teen shows need to have adult themes that could attract older viewers. Facebook was also asking for more formats that may be familiar to traditional TV viewers and middle America, like reality and talk shows.
Facebook has pared down the number of shows it is purchasing. The few it supports has more household appeal for post-college viewers. "Queen America" stars Catherine Zeta-Jones, while talk show "Red Table Talk" stars Jada Pinkett Smith. "The Real World," while still on air, has more of a nostalgia factor for Gen Xers.
On the list of Watch shows available for advertising, only 25 percent are for people in their young 20s, one media buyer said. The rest are for an older audience, especially newer shows. Another media company who did an independent analysis of their competitors found just 15 percent of the top 25 shows on Facebook Watch are aimed towards teens and young adults.
In a statement, Facebook played down the significance of Watch as a stand-alone service separate from the News Feed, but said that video consumption rates are higher within Watch.
"We see Watch and News Feed serving complementary purposes, so it makes sense that video consumption and discovery are happening in both places," Matthew Henick, Facebook head of content strategy and planning, said in a statement. "People are increasingly coming back to Watch for an intentional, people-centric viewing experience, and we've seen that people view videos for five times longer in Watch compared to in News Feed. Most importantly, people are connecting with friends and other fans around those videos on Watch in a way they don't on other platforms."
Facebook also noted that some shows have successfully captured younger viewers -- for instance, it says, 75 percent of "Ball in the Family" viewers are under 35.