Interviews

Video is at the heart of our strategy, says Fares Akkad of Facebook

Fares Akkad, Head of Media Partnerships for Facebook and Instagram, Middle East, Africa and Turkey.

As traditional broadcasters scramble to reinvent themselves to a younger audience, Facebook sits pretty. Fares Akkad, Head of Media Partnerships for Facebook and Instagram, Middle East, Africa and Turkey, explains how video and other initiatives will determine much of Facebook’s expansion in the region.

How would you describe your role as Head of Media Partnerships?

I joined Facebook in the first role of its kind in the region, and my team and I work closely with strategic partners, helping them leverage Facebook tools to maximise mutually beneficial objectives. We work closely with entertainment, sports and news partners, with the aim to enhance the overall consumer experience with Facebook products.

Tell us a little bit about Facebook’s ambitious moves into the video streaming market and how you intend to take this forward.

Over the next three years, the biggest trend in our products will be the growth of video. Watching videos on Facebook connects people, sparks conversation and fosters community. As more people enjoy this experience, we learned that people like discovering videos in news feeds, but they also want a dedicated place they can go to watch videos. This is why we introduced Watch, a new platform for shows on Facebook – available on mobile, desktops and TV apps.

Watch is personalised to help you discover new shows, organised around what your friends and communities are watching. The Most Talked About section highlights shows that spark virtual water cooler discussions, and What Friends Are Watching helps you connect with friends about shows they also follow. We have also seen with Facebook Live that people’s comments and reactions to a video are often as much a part of the experience as the video itself.

With new formats like Live and 360, video on Facebook is immersive and built for mobile, says Fares Akkad. Pictured here is a demonstration of Oculus VR technology, a division of Facebook Inc.

With Watch, you can see comments and connect with friends and other viewers while watching or participate in a dedicated Facebook Group for the show. Watch is currently available in the US. We are looking to expand our video destination and both Facebook original and partner shows to other countries and regions, including the Middle East and North Africa in the future.

We’ve found that communities formed around video like TV shows or sports create a greater sense of belonging than many other communities. Globally, we’ve found that live videos generate 10 times the number of interactions and comments as other videos.

What are your observations of MENA audiences?

The MENA region’s affinity for smartphones is increasing day by day, with more than 71% of consumers using their smartphone to consume content. We’re seeing mobile being the device of choice to access Facebook as well – out of over 164 million people in the region that use Facebook, around 156 million (95%) are on mobile devices.

Facebook users around the world are choosing to engage with video on mobile, with 75% of video views by users around the world on mobile. The availability of larger screen mobile devices is creating a more immersive and compelling canvas for visual content. Today, 97% of people online in the UAE watch video at least monthly (versus 88% for EMEA), and 62% of Facebook users in the UAE posted or shared video content on the platform (versus 48% for EMEA). Monetising video content is a big area of concern among content creators.

One in every five Facebook videos is a live broadcast … people comment 10 times more on Facebook Live videos than on regular videos” Fares Akkad, Head of Media Partnerships for Facebook and Instagram, Middle East, Africa and Turkey

What does Facebook bring to the table that traditional and OTT players here don’t have?

Video on Facebook is personal. It is built around connections, conversations and communities. It’s also personalised. We can show you the most relevant videos from the people and publishers you’re interested in. And with new formats like Live and 360, video on Facebook is immersive and built for mobile. As video watching behaviours continue to change, we’ll continue to give advertisers more flexibility and control over their ad placements and look for more ways to provide audiences with great ad experiences across devices, content types and ad formats.

How does the system work in terms of ads in videos? How long can they be, and how often can they be shown?

Videos are currently eligible for ad breaks if they are at least 90 seconds long, with the first one allowed to run at the 20-second mark. On mobile especially, 47% of a video’s value is delivered in the first three seconds, and 74% is delivered in the first 10 seconds – after that, attention starts to decline. If your brand message is at the end of a 30-second spot, this may mean people are less likely to see it.

This is why we encourage brands to keep ads short in order to engage audiences. We are also looking to roll out six-second ads before videos next year, making it a requirement that videos be at least three minutes in length to have an ad break, instead of just 90 seconds.

“Within eight hours of uploading my Christmas video, I had a million views,” revealed UAE national Khaled Al Ameri at the Facebook panel on content creation. Seen here with fellow Emirati influencer and wife Salama Al Ameri.

If someone comes to Facebook with an ad for streaming, what’s your advice?

Partners need to think about where and when they want to place an ad. Due to low switching barriers in the digital space, brands can no more rely on automated placement of an ad every few minutes within a video. Ads need to organically flow within the narrative of the story.

Digital ads, especially on Facebook, lend themselves beautifully to creative thinking, so the second thing we would encourage our partners to do is keep their target audience in mind and customise their ads in line with viewer interest.

And finally, we ask partners to be flexible by leveraging Facebook’s extensive resources to test, tweak and reiterate their ads, in order to find the optimal solution for their needs.

Your live element was getting some traction at press conferences last year, but we haven’t seen that as much now. Are you looking to ramp this up?

We have seen incredible adoption, creativity and engagement of live video on Facebook since its launch. Live video on Facebook is truly social – the people who matter most to you watch your broadcast, comment and ask you questions. Today, one in every five Facebook videos is a live broadcast and over the past year, daily watch time for Facebook Live broadcasts has grown by more than four times. We’ve seen that people comment 10 times more on Facebook Live videos than on regular videos.

“We are looking to roll out six-second ads before videos next year, also making it a requirement that videos be at least three minutes in length to have an ad break, instead of just 90 seconds” Fares Akkad

What’s your MENA strategy, and what’s next on your agenda?

While we remain focused on our mobile-first strategy, we see the shift to video being as big as the shift to mobile, if not bigger. We’re putting video at the heart of all our apps and services; when done well, video brings us closer together. We’re building more features and products that focus on the camera – like Instagram stories and masks in Live – making it much easier to capture, edit and share creative videos.

What are some of the big challenges you face in this market?

We like to think of these as opportunities for growth. For example, the further development of connectivity in the MENA region is key for digital video. This needs to be supplemented with increased awareness about the technical aspects of digital production, as well as storytelling, with the goal of enhancing both the quantity and quality of digital video in the region. However, with the popularity of Facebook as a platform and the availability of online selfhelp tools and programmes, we are confident that this gap can be closed fairly quickly.

What is your video strategy for this market?

We are working with Arab content creators to help them use Facebook tools to enhance the quality of their video content and build communities around their passions – ranging from comedy sketches, beauty and fashion, interactive video games and even knitting sweaters. For example, we have been working with Khaled Al Ameri, an Emirati influencer, to highlight some of the amazing communities that thrive on Facebook and give more people a voice. Another example is the Dubai CrossFit Games. We worked with regional and international CrossFit stars and fitness influencers to help raise awareness for the event. We also created targeted campaigns to recruit contestants from around the world, and used videos and images from last year’s competition to help the organisers fill a 5,000-seat arena versus the 400-seat space they used previously. We livestreamed the whole event, attracting a significant global audience.

Right now, if people want to place their short films on Facebook, what are the criteria?

Although Watch and ad breaks are set to be launched in the MENA region next year, I encourage partners to start building their video platform today! I would also recommend that advertisers experiment with short and long videos to see what works for them and for their audience.

Facebook elsewhere is showing interest in bidding for sports rights. I’m sure you’re doing the same here, but are there any specifics you can share?

On Facebook, fans discover rich and immersive video that brings them closer to the sports, athletes and teams they love. Facebook Live and Facebook 360 video give fans unprecedented access to the action, taking them on the field and in the locker room, inviting them to interact directly with their favourite players and enabling them to watch live games from around the world.

Facebook is helping athletes, teams, leagues and media connect with this global audience of sports fans.

In the MENA region, we recently worked with the WWE team to promote one of their live events in the UAE. Together with an influencer, we set up a Facebook Live broadcast from our office in Dubai, resulting in more than 300,000 views – the largest Live event ever for WWE. This not only helped to promote the brand, but also boosted actual ticket sales.

“Because of the diversity of our global community… something that may be disagreeable or disturbing to you may not violate our Community Standards” Fares Akkad

Facebook is changing its algorithm in the US to counter fake news, de-emphasise clickbait and let users contribute to the determination of the legitimacy of a news source. Is anything like this coming to the region?

Last year, we worked hard to reduce fake news and clickbait, and to destroy the economic incentives for spammers to generate these articles in the first place. But there is more we can do. In 2018, we will prioritise news from publications that the community rates as trustworthy, news that people find informative and news that is relevant to people’s local community.

We are currently testing two ranking changes in the US: Trusted Sources and Local News. Although we’re testing in the US first, we plan to roll them out internationally in the future. With Trusted Sources, we’re testing a change which will prioritise trusted sources to ensure that the news people see on Facebook is high quality. With Local News, we are testing a change which should connect people to more stories from news sources in their local town or city.

Is Facebook willing to explain its position on the rights of Palestinians to voice their rejection of Israeli occupation?

Facebook cares about the voices, opinion and rights of all the different communities on Facebook, and we will protect and work with them all, whatever their race or religion. Palestinian voices will be as safe on Facebook as every other community on our platform.

What is Facebook’s policy on controversial content, and who dictates what is controversial?

Are there some guidelines or an internal body that dictates this? We want people to feel safe when using Facebook. For that reason, we’ve developed a set of Community Standards. These policies will help you understand what type of sharing is allowed on Facebook, and what type of content may be reported to us and removed. Sometimes we will allow content if newsworthy, significant or important to the public interest – even if it might otherwise violate our standards. Because of the diversity of our global community, something that may be disagreeable or disturbing to you may not violate our Community Standards.

Content is so sensitive in this region, with so many flashpoints and fault lines. What is your first line of defence to monitor video content?

We have real people looking at reported content. Our CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that we will be doubling our safety and security team to 20,000 people in 2018, to better enforce our Community Standards.

We know context and intent is critical to applying our Community Standards, especially in areas such as hate speech. That’s why we have native language reviewers who understand local context reviewing reported content. It also includes experts in enforcement in areas such as child safety, hate speech, counter-terrorism and legal specialists. We also use automation to help our community operations team apply our policies and, in some cases, help stop the spread of certain types of content that very clearly violate our Community Standards.

We receive millions of reports each week and have a community operations team spread around the world working 24/7 across time zones to review and action reports as quickly as possible.