Business News Digital

As Facebook ramps up its video offering, is it more likely to feel the music industry’s wrath?

By | Published on Friday 11 August 2017

Facebook Watch

Facebook’s revamp of its video offering, unveiled earlier this week, could impact on the attitude of the music industry towards the social media giant as licensing talks continue.

The new Facebook feature, called Watch, will make it easier for users to navigate all the video content that has been uploaded to the platform. The new navigation tools make the video side of Facebook more like YouTube, and will likely see users more proactively encouraged to browse videos directly, rather than just watching content that automatically pops up within their personal Facebook feed.

The social media company is also more proactively encouraging creators to upload new videos to its servers, offering a 55% split on ad income in line with YouTube, and – also like the Google-owned video site – providing funding for some original content.

The new Watch channel replaces the Videos tab that was added to the Facebook mobile app last year, and will also be available via the social network’s web interface and within its other apps, such as those for Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV.

As much previously reported, as video has become ever more central to the Facebook proposition, there has been much chatter about the music contained within those videos, given the social media firm doesn’t have any licensing deals in place with the record companies, music publishers or collecting societies.

Although licensing talks are ongoing, for now Facebook relies on the pesky copyright safe harbour to avoid liability for all the music being uploaded to its platform without licence, whether in the form of pop promos or music synchronised into other videos.

While labels and publishers have said that they are optimistic about their licensing talks with Facebook, the social network’s video service becomes ever more like YouTube as it evolves, meaning there’s a high chance the web firm will want similar licensing deals to its Google-owned rival – ie a variation of the 55% advertising share arrangement it is offering all content creators, preferably with no commitments to pay when content plays without ads.

But, of course, the music industry has been going to great lengths for a few years now to diss its YouTube deals. Labels and publishers insist that they only ever agree to the terms enjoyed by the Google company because the aforementioned safe harbour results in rights owners having a greatly weakened negotiating hand when deal making with YouTube.

All of which has led some to predict that Facebook will ultimately end up on the same diss list as YouTube, ie a platform that the music industry reluctantly does business with, for marketing and content management reasons, but which is routinely bad mouthed by the music community to politicians and the press.

Though to date some key music industry execs have been willing to cut Facebook some slack – despite it being very late to the licensing party – because of the way videos pop up in each user’s feed, meaning that [a] it feels much more like a marketing platform and [b] it doesn’t really compete head-on with Spotify and Apple Music et al, because it’s not so easy to go in and demand and organise specific tracks.

But, as Facebook’s video channel becomes ever more like a YouTube clone, with new tools for browsing and organising content, the social media is indeed in danger of becoming a competitor to the cash cow premium streaming services. At which point the social media giant is much more likely to be added to the same pariah list as YouTube, unless Facebook is willing to offer the rights owners some nice big advances and financial guarantees.

Fun times ahead then.