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Facebook Goes Native on TV: Free Video Apps Coming for Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Samsung Devices

Variety logo Variety 2/14/2017 Todd Spangler
© Provided by Variety

Facebook is officially making a run at connected TVs — a significant part of its video push aimed at gobbling even bigger chunks out of television advertising budgets.

The social giant announced that the forthcoming video apps for TV will roll out “soon” to app stores for Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Samsung Smart TVs. More platforms are in the works. Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that the company was developing apps for set-tops.

At the same time, Facebook is currently looking to acquire or fund original programming — including scripted and unscripted formats — from media companies and individual digital stars. That longer-form content would presumably be prominently featured in the TV apps, for a lean-back viewing experience. Also worth calling out is Facebook’s deal with Univision to live-stream 46 soccer matches from Mexican league Liga MX this year, which also would be ideal for watching on TV screens.

“With the app, you can watch videos shared by friends or Pages you follow, top live videos from around the world, and recommended videos based on your interests,” Facebook product manager Dana Sittler and engineering manager Alex Li wrote in announcing the new features in a blog post Tuesday.

The apps also will let Facebook users access videos they’ve saved to watch later, and rewatch videos they have already watched, shared or uploaded. Initially, however, the videos streamed in the TV apps will not carry advertising, according to Facebook.

Facebook’s original content strategy is being led by Ricky Van Veen, Facebook’s head of global creative strategy, who joined the social giant earlier this year from CollegeHumor. Van Veen last week hired Mina Lefevre, MTV’s executive VP and head of scripted development, as head of development for original programming.

Last fall, Facebook introduced a way to “cast” videos from iOS or Android devices to Apple TVs and Google Chromecast dongles by tapping the TV icon in the Facebook app for smartphones or tablets. The new apps will let users access Facebook video directly from connected-TV devices.

Also Tuesday, Facebook announced that videos in users’ News Feeds will by default be set to play audio — previously, the autoplay videos have been muted. The company is updating the app so that sound fades in and out as users scroll through videos in News Feed. Facebook added that phones set to silent mode will not play videos with sound in the News Feed, and it will let users disable this feature in the settings menu.

Facebook also is adding the ability to minimize a video you’re watching to a picture-in-picture view while continuing to browse the News Feed. The video will keep playing in a thumbnail view, and you can drag the video to any corner of the screen. In addition, on Android devices, users can keep the video playing even when they exit the Facebook app.

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