Facebook is spending millions on original shows, but its users prefer the silly viral videos

What the people really want on Facebook Watch.
What the people really want on Facebook Watch.
Image: Screenshot via Facebook Watch
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New habits don’t form overnight.

Facebook is spending lavishly on TV-like originals for its new Watch platform to show publishers what’s possible on the platform. But, so far, users are still gravitating toward the kind of short, viral clips that have been on Facebook for ages.

Facebook Watch launched on Aug. 31 with hundreds of new series from publishers like Group Nine Media, BuzzFeed, The Dodo, Cheddar, Mashable, National Geographic, The Atlantic, (and Quartz), as well as a handful of longer-form programs funded by Facebook, including the reality series Ball in the Family, Mike Rowe’s Returning the Favor, Refinery29’s Strangers, and Conde Nast’s Virtually Dating. And the social network is willing to spend up to $1 billion to build out its library of originals over the next year—part of its “video-first” initiative, the Wall Street Journal reported (paywall).

Yet, the top-performing videos on the platform are the minutes-long adorable animal, sketch comedy, and prank videos that can be produced rather cheaply by publishers, and are similar to what’s already in the Facebook news feed and platforms like YouTube.

The top-performing video over the first five days of Facebook Watch was the premiere episode of A&E’s game show Bae or Bail, in which three partners pranked their significant others to see who’d come to their aid when a corpse rose from the dead at a funeral, according to a Variety analysis. It racked up 22 million views as of Sept. 5, and had about 26 million at the time of this writing, by Facebook’s posted count. That includes views of 3 seconds or longer; it’s unclear how many have watched the full episodes.

Skits by comedian Ray William Johnson, some of which had previously played on Facebook and YouTube but were repackaged for Facebook Watch, also dominated the most watched list. As did predictable viral videos from partners like The Dodo, whose series Comeback Kids: Animal Edition, highlights adorable animals that have overcome impossible hardships, including a golden retriever who lost her legs.

Episodes of three Facebook-funded shows—Returning the FavorVirtually Dating, and Ball in the Family—ranked among the top performers, too. 

These were the 10 most-watched videos on Facebook Watch as of Sept. 5, per Variety:

  • A&E’s Bae or Bail: “Funeral Prank”
  • The Dodo’s Comeback Kids: Animal Edition: “Dog Who Lost Her Legs Was Determined To Walk Again”
  • Mike Rowe’s Returning the Favor: “Operation Combat Bikesaver”
  • Ray William Johnson’s The Funny Page: “You’re Infected, Bro”
  • Conde Nast Entertainment’s Virtually Dating: “VR Blind Date in Outer Space”
  • The Funny Page: “When She Finally Leaves You”
  • Ball in the Family: “Bittersweet Victory”
  • The Funny Page: “You’re Trying Too Hard”
  • The Funny Page: “Accidental Dick Pic”
  • Returning the Favor: “Donovan Discovers”

Since then, premiere episodes of shows like Bae or Bail and Ball in the Family have added a few million more viewers, but some subsequent episodes have only clocked in the hundreds of thousands. The feel-good show Returning the Favor was among the most consistently performing Facebook-funded show, with millions of viewers for each episode. The Facebook-produced documentary series Humans of New York: The Series has also racked up a few million views an episode.