SAN FRANCISCO: Facebook is cautiously exploring the commercial benefits of longer form video and original content, as it seeks new ways of keeping users on the site and generating more advertising income.

According to the Financial Times, the social media giant is trying to persuade users to watch programmes on the platform and has begun funding original content as it ramps up its challenge to YouTube, Netflix and other established video providers.

It is reported that Facebook has already seen more users watch longer videos since the news feed's algorithm was changed in January to prioritise video, which allows users in the US to access a video tab rather than having to scroll through their news feed.

"What we're hearing from people is that news feed is a great way to discover videos," said Fidji Simo, Facebook's VP of Product. "[But] they also want places they can go to consume this content on a more deterministic basis," she added.

With Facebook aware that it is essential for it to maintain or increase the amount of time that users spend on the platform, the company is also investing in the commissioning of original content – albeit at a much lower level than the millions spent by the likes of Netflix.

According to Simo, it's all about developing shows around which it can build a community, as it managed to achieve with some of its livestreamed video, such as Ariana Grande's recent benefit concert in Manchester following the terrorist attack on one of her previous gigs in the British city.

"What is going to work best on mobile in a social environment where interactivity matters and bringing people together matters?" she asked. "That is the unique angle that is still a very unproven model and that is why we are funding these efforts to figure it out."

Facebook's growing focus on longer format video and original content was backed by Christopher Vollmer, PwC's Global Advisory Leader for Entertainment and Media, who compared the initiative to MTV's move from showing music videos to half-hour and hour-long reality shows.

"For MTV, longer, more lifestyle-focused shows led to higher ratings and more viewing time, which translated into both better advertising monetisation and better branding environments for marketers," he said.

He added that longer video formats have several benefits, such as viewers being more likely to watch all of an ad served in a longer video as well as longer content having the capacity to carry multiple ads.

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff