Shark Week just got a little scarier... on Facebook. Discovery Channel recently became the latest media outlet to embrace 360-degree videos on Facebook, which allows users to immerse themselves in shark-infested waters. 

It's the latest frontier for these interactive videos. YouTube waded into 360-degree videos in March. In less than two days on Facebook, Discovery racked up a million views. YouTube's version, posted four weeks ago, has 755,000 views.

That pretty much sums up why brands are so excited about Facebook video: the videos appear in the feed, they autoplay and are easily shareable on smartphones. Discovery's nightly viewership on TV averaged 861,000 from April to May, according to Nielsen data.

“We’ve made [Facebook] a gigantic priority,” said Conal Byrne, Discovery’s senior vice president of digital media. “Over the last three or four years, Facebook has primarily been for outreach and awareness...Facebook’s evolving a bit. Now we’re starting to think how we can program for it.”

facebook video Discovery Channel created a 360-degree video with content from "Shark Week" to premiere exclusively on Facebook. Photo: Facebook

Exclusive programming is exactly what Facebook's been craving to hear, as it releases more and more products to encourage hosting content on the social network. With Instant Articles, Facebook has convinced media companies to post directly to the social network and share ad revenue. 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been has been talking about the potential of video for months. He’s boasted about 4 billion video views each day on Facebook and has claimed that in five years, most of the site’s content will be video.

Facebook’s algorithm has been altered to surface more video content to its network of 1.49 billion monthly active users. Facebook has been releasing more video products, such as updated landing pages for networks, embeddable codes and suggested videos, as it competes to be a video hosting site. This week’s introduction of spherical videos comes six months after YouTube added support.

Better Than YouTube?

Facebook’s distribution has enticed brands and already proven its worth with numbers. “We love YouTube, and people go to YouTube,” said Christine Ngo, digital brand manager at Mountain Dew, whose team also released a Facebook 360 video on launch day. “Facebook is more an effective discovery platform because it’s feed-based.”

Facebook’s new system is not without its kinks. For now, the videos are not available on iOS, Safari or Internet Explorer. Facebook has yet to introduce advertising options for videos on the network, something that YouTube and Hulu both offer.

“We usually don’t get into avenues of content without some kind of an eye for [return-on-investment],” Discovery’s Byrne said. “We have not put any pressure on Facebook for monetization. We trust them to figure out.”

As Facebook develops its system, networks and brands will soon have to decide on where best to share and publish their content -- whether it be trailers or shows. Both the “Star Wars” preview and Discovery’s “Shark Week” video were created exclusively for Facebook.


Yet, Byrne noted that the network has much more content that they have shared only on their recently launched Discovery virtual reality app. “There’s a really fun part where you make this content and explore new mediums for a year and then you choose the smartest place to premiere this stuff,” Byrne said. “What attracts us the most about Facebook is the reach.”

Headed To Hollywood

Facebook video has become popular with the movie studios. As of Friday, Star War's trailer nearly 3 million views on Facebook, and Saturday Night Live's had over 1 million. Brands, on the other hand, were far fewer. Mountain Dew had 1,000 views, and General Electric had 900.

“I think we’re going as far as we can with virtual reality. We’re agnostic on who we partner with and experimenting…There’s still a lot of value to the actual headset,” Mountain Dew’s Ngo said.

Facebook is also planning to bring 360 to Oculus, when it releases its consumer headset in 2016. Earlier this week the social network announced partnerships with Netflix, Hulu, 21st Century Fox and Lions Gate for content within Oculus’s store, Bloomberg reports. More than 100 movies will be available next week.