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Two to Tango: Why Facebook Needs TV (and TV Needs Facebook)

Two to Tango: Why Facebook Needs TV (and TV Needs Facebook)

This February marked Facebook's milestone tenth anniversary. The social media giant has truly transformed across the past decade, but perhaps the most interesting element of its evolution has been the way it has adapted to meet the changing ways we're consuming video content—and the way Facebook itself is accelerating those changes.

A service that's fundamentally about communicating new experiences and "sharing" (so says Zuckerberg), Facebook has had to contend with the changing nature of what it is that we are looking to share. During Facebook's lifetime, the Internet has transformed from an entertainment tool into a destination for original content and next-generation TV experiences—experiences we want to discuss and "socialise." Recent years, in particular, have brought an influx of multiscreen, IPTV content—triggered in part by Netflix's 2012 U.K. launch.

But with more content vying for our attention than ever before, the 24 million Brits using Facebook each day are a testament to how successfully Facebook has fought to maintain relevance in our online lives—in particular, by inserting itself into the TV story. With online viewing and the rise in connected devices actually driving-up the amount of TV we're watching, Facebook has had little choice but to implement a strategy for TV—particularly with rival platform Twitter storming ahead in the second-screen wars as the top real-time forum for TV chatter.

That said, Facebook has done more than simply react to the growth of online video; it's helped to drive the rise in its consumption. Partnerships with the likes of Netflix have helped augment the TV experience, making it easy for users to share what they've watched and to discover what their friends have watched. The platform has also made TV history with the likes of a live Facebook broadcast that enabled 200,000 fans to catch a non-league, FA Cup soccer game that would never have been granted TV airtime.

As a platform that's increasingly about discovery, Facebook's ability to offer new and compelling ways to access and experience online video will be key. Facebook may be dominating online referral traffic, but social media is a volatile space and we're getting used to seeing stories about "Facebook fatigue" in the U.K. Facebook has helped disrupt TV, but it must continue to stay relevant to the industry whose transformation it has aided.

With time spent on digital media last year surpassing TV for the first time, Facebook ultimately needs to capitalise on its greatest asset: reach, and the user intelligence reach enables. Indeed a leaked memo last year revealed the company's intentions to capitalise on its "unparalleled targeted reach" and ownership of the "most engaging digital real estate" (i.e. its News Feed)—and it has already begun making its data privately available to broadcasters.

Above all, Facebook must continue to follow changing consumer habits. Twitter's Vine app, for example, that's celebrating a birthday of its own, has pioneered mobile video editing and sharing in its eventful first year, enabling Twitter to capitalise on the surging interest in user-generated content. This receptiveness to consumer change will be vital to Facebook's survival.

But TV has also come to need social networks. Social is not only changing how video is being consumed, discovered and distributed; programmers today are recognising the value in producing shows that will generate online conversation (think AMC's Breaking Bad). Expect to see social's rising influence on programming itself, alongside a breadth of new tools from the likes of Facebook, as social media strives to make it easier to share, engage with, and discover compelling TV.

This article first appeared on the Videonet blog