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YouTube and Facebook are learning it’s not so easy to make shows people want to watch

Published Nov 28th, 2018 8:01PM EST
YouTube Originals
Image: Getty Images

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As soon as Netflix hit it big with House of Cards, and Amazon followed suit with a breakout hit, Transparent, one tech giant after another started seeing dollar signs. Yahoo tried, and other legacy platforms like Facebook and YouTube likewise wanted a bite at the apple — the apple being the engagement and user stickiness that comes when you have a slate of original shows and programming that people want to watch.

When you do have that, users stick around on your platform longer, or at least that’s the idea. So executives started handing out checks, and the great content race began, until, one by one, companies started finding out that you can spend the money, but the hits don’t automatically follow.

We got a sense of that very reality in action this week via headlines out of YouTube and Facebook. Both companies have certainly dipped their toe in the original programming waters, with the former’s slate of YouTube Originals including a generally well-regarded first season of Cobra Kai, a sequel to the Karate Kid. Facebook, meanwhile, has started funding shows that include high-profile acting talent. Examples include Sorry For Your Loss, a drama starring Elizabeth Olsen about a grieving widow moving on with her life after the death of her husband — and which had all the production values, top-notch acting and quality writing that made this something you could have easily seen end up on a traditional cable network.

Here’s where we are, though. Both Netflix and to a lesser extent Amazon are still the examples that other tech giants look to when they try to get into this game. But at least for YouTube and Facebook, they’re now in the process of changing up their original content strategy in a big way.

For YouTube, it’s reportedly going to shift focus away from making people pay to watch its original shows. Rather than put them all under the company’s $12-per-month Premium subscription service, the company in the short term is going to have its originals include a mix of subscription- and ad-supported series. A YouTube representative told Variety as much — indeed, that its original shows and films may eventually be free for everyone to watch and include ads.

“As we look to 2019, we will continue to invest in scripted programming and shift to make our YouTube Originals ad-supported to meet the growing demand of a more global fanbase,” that statement reads. “This next phase of our originals strategy will expand the audience of our YouTube Original creators and provide advertisers with incredible content that reaches the YouTube generation.”

Facebook, meanwhile, is changing up its strategy in a different way. As kids shy away from the social media service that continues to lose the cachet now more readily inherent in services like Instagram, Facebook is likewise reportedly moving up the demographic scale in regards to its original programming. Said another way — Facebook will be making more programming for oldsters.

“Facebook’s YouTube competitor is pivoting to older audiences as teens tune out and publishers balk,” a CNBC headline on Monday blared.

Already, Facebook has spent more than $1 billion buying original shows and content like Sorry For Your Loss, as well as Queen America, a drama about the pageant world starring Catherine Zeta-Jones. That’s according to Variety, which also notes that about 50 million users in the US are viewing Facebook Watch content each month (Watch being the branded Facebook feature that its original shows fall under). The social media giant has said it’s trying to change the fact that its service still doesn’t have widespread name recognition.

All that said, it’s good to see YouTube and Facebook aren’t giving up on these efforts. It might sound corny to note, but it really is true that the winner here is me and you when companies like these tech giants dive into original programming, given that we have an abundance of content to watch and be entertained by.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.

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