Facebook’s new video platform, Watch, is “working spectacularly for us,” said Ben Lerer, CEO of Group Nine Media, the Discovery-backed owner of Thrillist, Now This and The Dodo. “We’ve done well over 100 million video views and 100 million minutes of viewing, which is important. So people are staying for longer. We have over half a million followers to our shows in the three weeks” since Watch launched.
Group Nine launched 24 shows as Watch lit up, and Lerer said the shotgun approach was intentional. By testing out a wide range of genres and styles, including animation and live action of varying lengths, some of it binge-released and other titles sequential, the company hopes to refine its offerings. “The idea is that we can collectively take the learnings of all the different kinds of programming we’re creating and continue to have this advantage, where data and creativity meet.”
Lerer’s comments came during a panel about the digital video explosion on the kickoff day of Advertising Week, the annual brand-a-palooza now in its 14th year. Before the panel, which also featured Suzy Deering, VP and chief marketing officer at eBay, and Andrew Robertson, president and CEO of media agency BBDO, moderator Carolyn Everson delivered a 10-minute presentation highlighting the company’s overall video focus and growth on Instagram.
The session, which did not feature audience Q&A, steered clear of any mention of the ongoing difficulties Facebook has encountered over its role in Russian interference with U.S. elections or what marketers call “brand safety.” The latter has been seized on by traditional TV networks, whose upfront pitches have stressed their reliable environments for ads, depicting Facebook as a massive platform capable of mixing objectionable programming or profiles with brands.
Given that 75% of mobile traffic will be video within three years, Everson said Facebook Live has become an increasingly valuable tool. She cited its ability to capture the reality on the ground during recent hurricanes. “It will fundamentally change the way disasters are covered moving forward,” she said. MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle, she noted, brought a crew down to the storm-ravaged British Virgin Islands, which she had gotten to know previously as a visitor. When Ruhle was unable to broadcast via traditional methods due to downed infrastructure, she delivered video reports via Facebook.
Consumers’ voracious appetite for video is borne out in statistics. According to Everson, video draws five times the engagement of static content on Facebook or Instagram.
Compared with the olden days of 30-second TV spots, the notion of video online is a vast array of possibilities, she and panelists described a race to catch up to consumer habit. “Calling video video would be like calling the Beatles just a band,” Everson said.
The average person touches their phone 2,617 times a day, she added. In this increasingly tactile landscape, Instagram has now reached 800 million accounts, gaining its most recent 100 million faster than any previous 100 million user increment. Half a million accounts are created each day, and the amount of video uploaded to the site has increased fourfold over the past year.
Lerer said Group Nine, in which Discovery Communications owns a 35% stake, has specifically avoided trying to make videos that go viral. “We like to say it’s not content for everybody; it’s content for somebody,” he said. “We’re focused on raising the floor. We look at the stuff that’s not working. … Many of our worst-performing videos still have over a million views.”