17 February 2017

Facebook Newsroom: “New Ways to watch Facebook Video”

Videos in News Feed have previously played silently — you tap on a video to hear sound. As people watch more video on phones, they’ve come to expect sound when the volume on their device is turned on. After testing sound on in News Feed and hearing positive feedback, we’re slowly bringing it to more people. With this update, sound fades in and out as you scroll through videos in News Feed, bringing those videos to life.

If your phone is set to silent, videos will not play with sound. If you never want videos to play with sound, you can disable this feature by switching off “Videos in News Feed Start With Sound” in Settings. We’ll also be showing in-product messages to tell people about the new sound on experience and controls.

Dana Sittler & Alex Li

Annoying to say the least. But let’s not forget Facebook is first and foremost a company, and as such needs to make money. Sound by default for newsfeed videos will make them look less like glorified GIFs, and enable richer ads, hopefully driving up engagement for users and revenues for Facebook.

Facebook Video Sound On Facebook Video Watch and Scroll
Bringing Sound to Videos in News Feed

Arguably the more important news here is the Facebook Video App for TV. There are many indications that Facebook is expanding in this area, potentially to compete with YouTube and Netflix, and this is another step in this direction. There are problems with this strategy though: firstly, Facebook has never been very consistent about its new initiatives and has scrapped or deemphasized more experiments than one can remember – recently backing down from Live Video deals. The Newsfeed is home to so many types of content, from text and news to photos, events and video, that users will have a hard time associating Facebook with watching video shows – as opposed to sites dedicated to this type of content. A TV app would probably help, but that runs into other problems: how will users discover the app?

Launching any new feature exposes an old tension inside Facebook: should it be included and promoted in the Newsfeed, where it will be immediately seen by millions of users, with the risk of competing for engagement with other types of content and making the app more complex and bloated? Or should it be a separate app, leaner and more focused, but without the huge network effects to drive usage? Facebook has had limited success with stand-alone apps, with the exception of Messenger that was practically forced upon people by removing the messaging features from the main app. The current trend seems to be feature-creep again, with Instagram adding direct messages, Stories, Live Video and furiously copying everything Snapchat does; Messenger recently added its own flavor of stories as well. I fear soon users will have a hard time differentiating between these three apps.

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