January 21, 2020

Instagram and Facebook Concede Small Defeats on Video Streaming

Facebook and Instagram appear to have taken a step back from their respective forays into the crowded video streaming space last week. Instagram has removed its dedicated IGTV button, while Facebook Watch has cancelled two celebrity-driven narrative shows, in a reported move away from scripted content. (TDG predicted both of these changes in our 2019 social media reports.)

Why, and why now?

For its part, Facebook is stepping back from scripted programming on Facebook Watch by canceling (or selling) Sorry for your Loss and Jessica Biel’s Limetown. In TDG’s June 2019 report, The Ascent of the Social TV Engager, we predicted that “[a]ttempts at narrative sitcoms and comedy produced especially for social networks will continue to fail, regardless of production value.” Despite a big-name star (Marvel’s Elizabeth Olsen) and positive critical reception, Sorry for Your Loss episode view counts ranged from about 320,000 to two million, despite pilot views of 12 million. Given that Facebook’s audience is now over two billion monthly active users, these numbers proved fatal.

Deadline reported that Facebook is moving away from scripted content in general, focusing instead on unscripted/reality content. While audiences and analysts have been rolling their eyes at Facebook Watch’s scripted content, the company has spent the past few years gung-ho on the service and its original content.

Facebook still has some scripted series in the pipeline, but recent deals in unscripted content have performed better. Its latest foray into unscripted programming comes via a three-show contract with the UFC, which generated over $1 million from ads on its Facebook videos in 2019, while driving tune-in to their tent-pole events. Generally, Facebook has been doubling down on sports content, forming partnerships with the NFL, MLB, NBA, Fox Sports, and ESPN for game recaps and short sports-centric talk shows. Facebook Watch is also picking up Steve Harvey’s Steve on Watch from NBC.

Instagram has also changed its approach to long-form video streaming, removing the dedicated IGTV button from its app. TechCrunch refers to this removal as “an admission of lackluster results.” TDG’s December 2019 report User Adoption and Trends in Social Streaming, IGTV, and Facebook Watch revealed just how lackluster the IGTV offering really was. It was never supported as a standalone product but rather as an extension of Instagram Stories and the Instagram feed.

TDG predicted this exact product change less than a month ago:

“IGTV failed to catch on as a standalone aspect of Instagram, and instead became a storage unit for longer videos that do not fit in the feed or Stories. We can expect to see the distinct aspect of IGTV fade away—perhaps the icon on the upper right corner will be replaced with something else or the standalone app will disappear altogether from the app store.” (Source: User Adoption and Trends in Social Streaming, IGTV, and Facebook Watch)

TDG’s research found that only a third of IGTV users clicked on the now-defunct TV icon, while 41% swiping up on an Instagram Story and 40% clicked “keep watching” on a feed video.

A Facebook rep told TechCrunch:

“As we’ve continued to work on making it easier for people to create and discover IGTV content, we’ve learned that most people are finding IGTV content through previews in Feed, the IGTV channel in Explore, creators’ profiles and the standalone app. Very few are clicking into the IGTV icon in the top right corner of the home screen in the Instagram app.”

Final Thoughts
Of course, both Facebook and Instagram already captivate hordes of user attention, much of it on video, so it’s not as if either is suffering from poor audiences in general. However, users have organically dictated what kinds of video they want on each platform. On YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook, users have shown they want to watch user-generated video, professional short-form non-fiction video including sports, and clips from four genres of television: sketch comedy, political comedy, variety, and awards. TDG expects to see most narrative content created by social networks fade away, with most of Facebook Watch’s scripted shows being cancelled by 2021.

Lauren Kozak, the author of the report and this article, is our Senior Advisor on Social Media, Analytics, and User Behavior. She has previously held positions for the Los Angeles Times, Tribune Publishing, and Britney Spears.

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