Facebook beefs up its video platform to take on YouTube

Facebook wants people to watch more videos on its platform, even if those videos aren’t discovered within your news feed. In other words, Facebook wants to be more like YouTube. And today the company announced a set of video-related updates aimed at doing just that.

Facebook’s interest in video consumption first ramped up nearly two years ago when it began auto-playing video within a person’s news feed, and recently expanded to include live video streams from celebrities as well as immersive 360-video. That worked fairly well in terms of serving interesting content you’re likely to enjoy, but the engagement on those videos doesn’t really compare to YouTube. Part of that is because people don’t come to Facebook to watch videos, making viewing times shorter or limited to a single video at a time.

Facebook's new Suggested Videos feed.
Facebook’s new Suggested Videos feed.

Today’s updates want to fix that with the debut of a new “Suggested Videos” feature, which is already being tested for mobile users. When you open a video on Facebook, you’ll now see it playing as part of a new video discovery feed. Once you finish, the basic idea is that you’ll scroll through and perhaps watch a couple more related videos. It’s sort of like how YouTube is successful in getting me to watch 10 minutes of puppy videos when I only intended to consume a single 30-second clip. Whether people will actually find Facebook’s version useful is another question entirely.

If Facebook can increase the amount of time people are spending purely watching videos in a single sitting, it’ll help drive revenue from video advertising. It’ll also help justify the video ads Facebook plans to run in between the suggested videos.

Facebook also announced that it’ll soon give people more options for how to watch video content on its platform. You’ll soon be able to navigate to a new video section that keeps track of any video links you’ve saved for later. And on the opposite side of the viewing spectrum, Facebook is catering to the casual crowd of video watchers, allowing them to push the video player into a smaller floating window that continues playing while you navigate other parts of the social network. I could see this being extremely valuable, as people spend lots of time just lounging on Facebook during the day. (This is already how I watch most linear TV.)

But of course, Facebook’s success in stealing people away from YouTube will largely depend on the quality of content being uploaded. Therefore the company is also rolling out a new set of tools aimed at helping publishers target and grow its audience. In the past, web video creators have criticized Facebook for the poor level of legitimate engagement it brings to their uploaded content. My guess is these new video-related updates are intended to fix that.