Will Facebook’s Latest Move Give the Tech Giant an Edge in the Streaming Wars?

Facebook isn’t going to compete with Netflix and Amazon in the hour-long drama space. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Facebook is increasingly looking like a real media company.

The social media giant hired the former leader of BuzzFeed Studios, Matthew Henick, to lead Facebook’s video and content strategy and planning, as well as Mike Bidgoli, former head of advertising product at Pinterest, to lead Facebook Watch, the six-month-old streaming service that Facebook put out last year to fill a void in its product mix. Henick and Bidgoli announced their new jobs on social media on Monday.

One of the two new hires’ immediate challenges will be to figure out a clear roadmap for Watch, which has yet to make a compelling case in the crowded streaming business dominated by Netflix and Amazon.

Ricky Van Veen, Facebook’s head of global creative strategy, said recently that Facebook wasn’t planning to compete with Netflix and Amazon in prestige hour-long dramas but would instead focus on leveraging its social user base for a competitive edge. 

For example, one of Watch’s unique offerings is real-time audience interaction with show creators. For each show streaming on the platform, there is a dedicated chat group for fans to share their thoughts.

Industry observers would agree with this vision.

Consumers want Facebook to do a better job of integrating relevant and engaging content, based on their profile, into their individual news feed—else it becomes like broadcast TV where viewers are treated to an onslaught of video commercials, many of which have no relevance,” Jim Fosina, CEO of Fosina Marketing Group, told Observer in January.

Identifying video as the fastest-growing sector of content consumption, Facebook began fine-turning user experience for its existing video products in 2016, adding new features such as group video chat in FB Messenger, “video for TV” apps, and automatically minimizing video windows while users scroll for other content (similar to YouTube).

Soon after, Facebook introduced Live in April 2016 and Watch in 2017 to expand its video portfolio.

“I’ve always thought of Facebook as a storytelling platform at its core—every status update, every photo, every ‘it’s complicated’ has a story to tell,” Henick wrote in a Facebook post on Monday.

Henick has a track record of producing original content for a millennial audience using the platform’s existing assets.

During his four years at BuzzFeed Studios, he led the development of Brother Orange, a film adaptation of a writing series on BuzzFeed by editor Matt Stopera, and What Happened to…Jessica Chambers, a documentary series based on the reporting by Katie J.M. Baker about the mysterious death of Mississippi teen Jessica Chambers.

“The future of storytelling is social. As media learns to wield the advantages of the digital world, a completely new video experience is emerging on mobile, with a potential for social and interactivity that we’re only beginning to tap. It resists silos like ‘first’ and ‘second screens.’ I think everyone in the world should be able to touch this experience—whether they want to consume it, create for it or even monetize it — in a singular, unified way. Facebook is in an amazing position to offer that,” Henick wrote.

“The broader media space is going through an unprecedented transformation as creators have more opportunities to produce incredible content and to deliver this content to viewers through new means enabled by mobile broadband and new platforms. Facebook will play a huge part in unlocking this creative energy and connecting creators with their fan communities,” Bidgoli wrote in a Medium post on Monday.

Will Facebook’s Latest Move Give the Tech Giant an Edge in the Streaming Wars?