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Facebook Watch Details Original TV Ambitions: ‘We’re Not Going for Big Prestige TV Drama’

TCA 2018: Debut at bi-annual conference dominated by fake news discussion

In their TCA debut, Facebook executives (no, not Mark Zuckerberg) detailed the long road they have to be on to join the ranks of the Netflixes and even AMCs of the original TV game.

“Our breakouts may look different than what you would expect from other platforms,” said Fidji Simo, vice president of product. “We’re not going for big prestige TV drama.” The social media giant is joining an ever-growing field of content distributors, having launched Facebook Watch a year ago.

“It takes a show that breaks through and becomes part of the cultural zeitgeist,” added Ricky Van Veen, head of global creative strategy, on what’s going to get Facebook Watch the same respect of an AMC or HBO. He mentioned noted basketball-dad LaVar Ball, who produces “Ball in the Family” and their Tom Brady docuseries have already broken through a bit.

“When we see ‘SNL’ doing a parody of [LaVar Ball], or ‘Tom v Time’ getting into that pre-Super Bowl conversation, those are those breakthrough moments,” he continued. “I think it will be a long to way to go before we’re at that level of other platforms who have had big huge breakouts.”

So how then, does Facebook measure success? It’s all in the metrics. “We really look at metrics like the week to week retention of a series,” Van Veen continued. “Are they discussing it?”

However, with Facebook often being in the news for reasons that have nothing to do with original TV shows, Van Veen and Simo ended up fielding a lot of questions that are likely above their pay grade.

Both were asked, multiple times, about how the platform deals with objectionable content and spreading misinformation. Simo addressed that by stating that everything is policed by Facebook’s community guidelines.

“There are definitely some things that need to be evolved, and all our standards are constantly evolving,” she said, adding that the company has an internal standards and practices group they use for Facebook Watch programming. “What we’re trying to do here is balance free expression that we want to see happen on Facebook with the safety of our users… It’s something we strive to get right.”

TV critics pushed even further on how Facebook chooses to handle content on the platform that has been fact-checked and proven to be untrue, versus content that is “abhorrent.”

“There is a pretty big difference between what is allowed on Facebook and what gets distribution,” Simo stated, adding that they won’t ban misinformation, as long as its not deemed harmful or hateful to users, just curb its distribution. “We limit distribution in news feed.”

When that was still not good enough for TV critics, one of whom asked why Facebook would work with Fox News, which is part of Facebook Watch’s fully-funded news slate, Van Veen answered by saying it’s not his department (that would be Campbell Brown, their head of news partnerships).

“Our team does not do news programming, we do entertainment,” he said.