• New Facebook Watch Product Leader Must Pursue Major Revamp

    A couple of days ago Facebook appointed a new leader of its Facebook Watch product team, Mike Bidgoli, who was previously at Pinterest. Watch has become a critical Facebook video initiative, especially with the company’s recent algorithm change to the News Feed, which deemphasizes professional content. Publishers hoping to build out their video businesses on Facebook must now look to Watch.

    Unfortunately, in my experience Watch is a mess, with a non-personalized, incoherent user experience that does virtually nothing to draw in newcomers or reward returning viewers. Compared with Netflix’s UI, for example, which does an excellent job of recommending content based on your usage and profile, Watch seems prehistoric.

    As I’ve previously written, Watch is a totally new value proposition from Facebook; instead of users scrolling their feed for unlimited content, Watch is a destination tab, more akin to visiting YouTube. As all web sites have learned over the years, this means the payoff to visitors needs to be quick or they’ll abandon.  

    Given Facebook’s extensive knowledge of users’ preferences and behaviors, presenting relevant content should be straightforward. But in my case, under the “Discover” tab, I was presented with 4 thumbnails, one showing 2 animals with the tagline “Screech Owls & River Otters” (upon close inspection a James Corden video), another of a wrestler with the tagline, “Mixed Match Challenge,” an old-looking black and white photo of 4 men with tagline “We’ll Meet Again.” And the 4th thumbnail was for episode 1 of “Tom vs. Time,” which I had already watched several weeks ago.

    As I scrolled, I was presented with other videos that seemed totally irrelevant: an episode on cooking Puerto Rican food, something called “The Deadliest Dance Party,” a Martha Stewart video, a video about traditional Hawaiian tattoos, etc. Finally, at the bottom was a large graphic, touting “There’s always more to watch” but it was unclickable.

    Shifting to the “Watchlist” tab, I found the sole show I’m currently following, “Tom vs. Time” with episodes clearly displayed and then a prompt for “More Shows.” Clicking on this button I was presented with a list of around 85 shows, though in no particular order. At the top of the list was “The Trumpster Fire by HuffPost” which made some sense because I read a lot of politics on Facebook. But then came shows about magic, music, conservative politics, etc. which all seemed irrelevant.

    I’d heard from multiple sources about the basketball show, “Ball in the House,” for which Facebook has reportedly paid between $550K-$750K per episode and has become popular. But on the list of more shows, it only showed up around #60, long after I would have bailed out if I weren’t specifically trying find where it was listed. Separately, when I tried using search, I had to type in “bal” before it first popped up in results, but even then, in the 6th position (it would only move to the top position when I had typed in “ball in”).

    If there’s a silver lining here for Bidgoli, the new Watch product head, it’s that there’s a lot of straightforward things to do which will have immediate benefits. Still to be resolved though is that publishers are reliant on Facebook payments, which, based on history, can come and go (see what happened with Facebook Live).

    Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly said he wants to shift the company to be “video first,” which Wall St. analysts have consequently become very focused on. But with professional video now taking a backseat in News Feed, and Watch still looking like an early stage project, it’s clear that Facebook has a long way still to go.