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Facebook Wants to Take Over TV

Because that way, it can do what all lucrative media companies do: deliver you more ads.
February 2, 2017

For a long time, Facebook refused to admit that it was a media company. Now, in all but admitting that it has eyes on taking over TV, those illusions are long gone.

Facebook has been pushing hard on video for a long time. First, it slathered it all over your news feed. Then it asked everyone to stream video to their friends using its Live feature. And it paid video producers handsomely to create content specifically for the social network.

As our own Tom Simonite has pointed out in the past, that shouldn’t have come as a surprise. The social network has admitted that it’s running out of room in its News Feed for ads—any more and users will, apparently, find it too much. But it can still splice promotional content into video.

To that end, an announcement last week ushered in a decision to start pushing longer videos into the News Feed. Longer videos, after all, provide more space for ads. But it seems that the news also foreshadowed a larger vision: that the social network doesn’t just like video—it has eyes on taking over TV, too.

On Wednesday, Mark Zuckerberg described how he plans for Facebook to become the place where “when people want to watch videos or want to keep up to date with what’s going on with their favorite show, or what’s going on with a public figure that they want to follow, that they can come to Facebook.”

He then went even further, adding that he would like Facebook to become a place where “you want to watch videos, you want to keep up with the content that you watch episodically week over week.”

In other words: Facebook wants to become a genuine alternative to TV.  

That will take a while. Zuckerberg himself also noted that “people will experiment with longer forms of video,” but added that, for now, shorter clips will remain “the primary focus.” TechCrunch suggests you could think of it as more of a YouTube than a Netflix—paying content producers to create shorter-format video, with the occasional longer item, rather than cranking out original feature-length shows. For the time being, anyway.

Not convinced? Well, it’s also rumored that the company is planning to build its own TV apps. The Wall Street Journal (paywall) reports that the company is “developing a video-centric app for television set-top boxes,” like Roku and Apple TV. If that’s true, Facebook will not only be gathering a large reservoir of content that people can share with friends—it’ll also give them an easy-to-reach faucet from which to drink when they sit down in front of the television.

After years of protestation, Zuckerberg last month gestured toward the fact that Facebook may, kind of, perhaps be a media organization. “Facebook is a new kind of platform,” he said in a video. “It’s not a traditional technology company. It’s not a traditional media company.” Not a traditional one, perhaps, Mark. But if you get into the TV game, that will make Facebook a media company all the same.

(Read more: Recode, TechCrunch, Wall Street Journal, “Facebook at a Crossroads,” “Facebook Now Lets You Live-Stream Video From Your iPhone”)

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