Facebook Tries Being A TV Channel With New Mobile Video Player

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If you watch one of a friend’s videos, Facebook will now try to get you to watch more with a new carousel of suggested videos that appears after you view one in the mobile News Feed. Reminiscent of YouTube’s Related Videos, Facebook confirms the existence of this fresh laidback experience in Facebook for iOS that I spotted over the weekend. It lets you quickly watch a series of videos before jumping back to the feed.

The feature could encourage more Facebook video uploading by getting people more views and Likes on their mini-movies. It also opens up a powerful advertising opportunity to pipe in sponsored video suggestions like those served by Facebook’s big new video adtech acquisition LiveRail.

After I asked, Facebook confirmed the existence of the updated mobile player, saying “this is a new feature we are testing on mobile to help people find more videos they might be interested in.” For now it’s only for organic video content uploaded to Facebook, doesn’t include ads, and the test is only available to a subset of Facebook’s users.

The suggested video player only appears after watching some people’s direct uploads to Facebook, not YouTube videos or clips on other third parties. Videos in the feed autoplay, but tapping on one enlarges it to full screen. One it finishes playing in portrait mode, the video shrinks and a black video recommendation carousel of “more from [that friend] and others” appears at the bottom. You may be able to try it by watching my friend Shane Walker’s cute videos of his french bulldog Monti, which activated the carousel for me.

Facebook Video Player DimmedTapping a video swaps it into the main window. In a slick design trick, the carousel darkens while you’re watching video and brightens up if you touch it to scroll through the suggestions. The carousel resembles the “related news” suggestions Facebook shows on news links in the we feed.

The carousel makes watching multiple videos in a row exceedingly easy. Rather than dumping you back on the feed when you finish the first one, it keeps the video player open. The idea seems to be that if you go through the effort to open the full-screen player, you’re probably in the mood to watch more videos.

Video suggestions like this could be a big deal for Facebook.

First, the more that people watch videos, the more that people will post them. Right now Facebook is battling YouTube and Vine to own the world’s user-generated videos and the monetization potential they deliver. Our collective addiction to Likes and comments incentivizes us to share whatever content receives them. YouTube hosts longer, high-production videos and Vine has stars sharing short, expertly crafted content (plus average people posting six-second ad-hoc videos). Snapchat privately transmits informal, conversational 10-seconds-or-less ephemeral shots.   Facebook and Instagram, whose videos both auto-play in the feed, have an opportunity to own broadcasted clips in the ~30-second range if it can get them an audience. 

Second, video views let Facebook soak up more of users’ time. This attention makes Facebook more powerful by entrenching it in people’s lives, denying competitors the engagement, and generating data on what content and friends people like best. Driving video views hasn’t been a big focus for Facebook lately, though, as over the past few years it folded the videos section of people’s profiles into a buried “Videos” album.

Third, more passive video consumption like this could be a great way for Facebook to break into smart TVs. Reading status updates from the couch could be tough and too much work, but watching video after video or a slideshow of friends’ photos could be a great laidback experience.

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And finally, wherever you have content discovery you have an opportunity for sponsored recommendations. Facebook could slot its new premium video ads like movie trailers into the carousel, racking up extra views it can charge top-dollar for. That will be even easier now that Facebook has agreed to buy video ad server LiveRail, which we broke the news was a $400 million to $500 million dollar acquisition. In a Facebook video ad pitch deck leaked to TechCrunch, it trumpets the ability to reach more people than TV networks.

To make this all work, Facebook really needs to update its mobile video uploading interface, which I’ve been saying for eight months now. It’s archaic by modern standards. There’s no multi-shot recording, image stabilization, filters, light enhancement, drawing, or other features found in Instagram, Vine, and Snapchat. Facebook did recently hire the founders of Switchcam, which I hope points to interest in developing a more enticing video creation flow.

If better uploading was combined with a breezy way to consume videos, Facebook could evolve past its roots in photo-sharing and become a true home for full-motion windows into our friends’ lives.