Facebook wants to challenge YouTube as the Internet’s primary destination for video

To challenge YouTube as the Internet's primary destination for video, Facebook (above) has started testing new advertising programmes, among other initiatives.
To challenge YouTube as the Internet's primary destination for video, Facebook (above) has started testing new advertising programmes, among other initiatives.PHOTO: REUTERS

SAN FRANCISCO • Laura Clery has the trappings of a YouTube star - seven-figure annual earnings, brand sponsorships and millions of fans who watch her comedy videos.

But she is finding fame and fortune on Facebook.

With three million followers on the social network, she hosts a weekly cooking show on Facebook Live. Her other sketches as Helen Horbath, a foul-mouthed female stalker, routinely receive several million views.

As an early participant in Facebook's video revenue-sharing programme, Clery is one of its first stars to receive YouTube-like payments.

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Developing native stars is part of Facebook's ambition to challenge YouTube as the Internet's primary destination for video. While 1.5 billion people go to YouTube every month to watch videos, Facebook users stumble on videos among a friend's vacation photos or in a news story.

So far, Facebook has not matched YouTube's success in coaxing viewers to watch for longer stretches, which is essential to siphon off television advertising money.

YouTube said viewers, on average, watch for more than an hour a day - a testament to its huge video inventory and ability to predict what a person wants to watch next.

To capture and retain the attention of its two billion monthly users with more than short, viral clips, Facebook is now opening a new chapter in the fight - by delivering live sports as well as creating programmes and exclusive shows.

It is also courting performers who can build a passionate audience. That is where Clery comes in.

Feeling powerless over her acting career, she tried her hand at online videos two years ago. She started out on YouTube, but struggled to stand out among the abundant content.

One of her first Facebook videos - a skit - was viewed 30,000 times in a day without any promotion or fans. In two years, she has become one of Facebook's biggest stars and is making more money than she ever did as an actor.

Most online video creators are not exclusive to any platform, but the biggest stars post most consistently on YouTube because its advertisement revenue-sharing typically provides the biggest payouts.

While creators post videos to Facebook, it is sometimes treated as an afterthought or a marketing tool to redirect users to their YouTube page.

Facebook is on the attack.

At last month's VidCon, the online video industry's annual trade show, it unleashed a charm offensive on creators, highlighting its fledgling video advertising programmes and a new app to help creators make videos look more professional.

Last year, it paid as much as US$220,000 (S$304,000) for top YouTube stars to produce exclusive content for Facebook Live.

But "as long as YouTube continues to be a place where creators can amass a large audience, it's always going to be a draw until another platform can match its revenue dollars", said Mr Joshua Cohen, co-founder of Tubefilter, a site devoted to the online video industry.

Facebook is not giving up, however. It started testing the new advertising programme earlier this year to let some creators, such as Clery, place 15-second advertisements in videos.

Creators said advertising revenue from Facebook was comparable with YouTube's. Facebook said it was "pleased" with the programme and planned to include more creators.

Also, both companies are pushing to help creators land so-called influencer marketing deals - connecting social media stars with companies that want their products promoted.

Last year, YouTube acquired FameBit - a marketplace to help marketers find influential stars - while Facebook made more people eligible to promote posts from brands.

Amid the face-off, some creators are keeping the faith with Facebook.

Ross Smith, who has 3.6 million Facebook followers for comedy videos, admitted he missed some opportunities to make money by focusing so much on Facebook. But he said he reserved his best content for Facebook because it had a diverse and global audience.

At VidCon, his YouTube star pals were mobbed by teenage fans while he walked around largely unnoticed.

But when he returned to his hotel, the staff recognised him. "I have this whole market with a different fan base," he said, while also relishing the "underdog" status - for now - to upend the top dog.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 11, 2017, with the headline 'Facebook ups online video stakes'. Print Edition | Subscribe