It may be social media public enemy #1, but 2.85 billion people still log into Facebook at least once a month; 1.25 billion of those consume videos when they do. That traffic has helped create an ecosystem of publishers and creators around the Facebook Watch feed. And apparently, there are some who could give two you-know-whats if people actually like what they produce: They publish cheaply produced clips that audiences find bizarre, but these clips are optimized for Facebook’s recommendation algorithm—and generate an absurd amount of reach. Today, OMR enters the final circle of social media hell and works out just how much cash these clips net creators.
A woman clogs the shitter with a crumpled up t-shirt, fills said shitter with ice cubes, ice cream, gummi bears and the water reservoir with a suicide of lemonade. She flushes. The food in the toilet bowl is flushed with soft drinks. From the off, the cameraman adds his two cents, “Wow, this is incredible!” And it is. This work of art has been seen an incredible 463,000 times on the Facebook-Watch subpage “The Anna Show” within a single week.
“Doing despicable things to food” is the latest growth hack
Other videos of this vein have even more views: The “Ultimate Nacho Trick,” for example, has been seen over 16 million times. The video features a woman dumping gobs of gooey cheese onto the counter, then sprinkling groundmeat, beans, sour cream, jalapeños and lettuce over top, mixing it all together and then shoveling the end result into a cone-shaped tortilla.
The star of another still is a woman prepping spaghetti and meatballs using a similar “technique.” “It’s the easiest way to make spaghetti for large groups—and it’s so much fun,” exclaims the “cook.” 17 million people have watched the technique in action. “There’s an entire content economy now built around videos of beautiful white women in bland unfurnished vaguely Californian homes doing repulsive things to food,” writes Ryan Broderick in his newsletter “Garbage Day.”
Hype House for nonsense vids tops 2b views a month
All three videos can be attributed to a single creator, Rick Lax, an American who gained notoriety a few years back with magic and mind-reading tricks. His videos and the simple mechanic he used earned him so much hate that there are a handful of widely-viewed videos on YouTube with titles praising his status, e.g. “Rick Lax: The Cancer of Facebook” and “The Biggest Con Artist on Facebook”. Lax’ Facebook page registers 14 million followers at present. Back in 2019, video analytics tool Tubular Labs labeled Lax’ channel “Facebook’s #1 global entertainment channel by an influencer.”
Lax’ total reach is in fact much, much larger. The home page for his production company lists 13 additional “shows”. Together with other magicians, musicians and couples, Lax has created something akin to “a hype house for trash content for Facebook Watch from the outskirts of Sin City. If you enter the network pages into the social analytics tool Crowdtangle, which is owned by Facebook, and add up the impressions listed there, “Rick Lax Productions” have generated about 2 billion video views in the past 30 days alone. The videos with the most reach include those by magician Justin Flom (960 million views), participant in “The Voice” and musician Adley Stump (564 million views) and Lax’ own Facebook page (391 million views).
“What the actual hell???”
Lax’ pages all follow a similar pattern: a mix of absurd and random recipes and pranks that build up to dramatic, inspirational crescendos that go heavy on the satire. Each clip also includes a disclaimer informing viewers that “this page features published videos including scripted dramas, parody, satire, and magic tricks. The events that take place in this particular short-film video are for entertainment purposes only.” The only thing missing is the once-ubiquitous “Do not try this at home.”
They also feature the same “level” of production and they all start right in the middle of the action with someone on camera demonstrating something and the cameraperson commenting on the action. Its primary goal would seem to be getting every viewer scratching their head as soon as possible and asking themselves, “What in the actual hell am I watching?” The resolution is typically reserved for the video’s final scenes and is almost always anti-climactic.
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Videos constructed this way are optimized for two goals: reach generation and earning ad revenue. This is because the engagement (comments are typically negative but numerous) and the “watch time” that the trashy plots generate enable Lax and his team to receive a big push from Facebook’s recommendation algorithm. When a Facebook user finishes watching a video, Facebook automatically suggests another video, typically one that has a high degree of engagement or watch time, meaning that Lax’ videos frequently pop up in Watch. And because all of the videos from Rick Lax Productions are longer than 3-minutes, they are eligible for in-stream monetization on Facebook.
In a 2016 earning’s call, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced “putting video first.” However, the start was a rocky one, as video views for 2015 and 16 were apparently incorrectly counted; Facebook reimbursed USD 40m to advertisers. Furthermore, reception to Facebook video appeared to be tepid at best as well-known creators uploading videos to Facebook were few and far between. Recently, online video news service Tubefilter reported that several creators have generated very high sums of revenue on Facebook Watch. Motivational coach Jay Shetty (announced in 2019) that he generated over USD 1m in a single year.
600k in monthly revenue realistic?
“Facebook Watch was no longer worth the effort,” marketing consultant and social media professional Jakob Strehlow tells us. Strehlow has overseen several numerous viral pages on Facebook and therefore has firsthand experience of the matter. “Costs vary drastically, RPM (Revenue-per-Mille), for example, can be below 1 dollar depending on where the videos are played, but typically ranges between 2 and 3 dollars.”
Another particularity Facebook has compared to Youtube is that not every counted view is monetizable, because at the 1-minute mark, recently as early as the 45-second mark, Facebook runs ads. Strehlow says that in his eyes it’s realistic that Rick Lax Productions can monetize 5% of all their views. That means that with 2 billion views per month, Lax’ videos could net him anywhere between USD 300K and 600K depending on the RPM. If Lax’ team is able to push the number of views longer than 1 minute even more (“Watch time for me is the most important metric,” Lax told Tubular Labs in 2019), then revenue could further increase.
Lax and Disney—competitors of the same order
Another example of leveraging questionable content into significant reach on Facebook Watch is TheSoul Publishing. Based in Cyprus, but originally from Russia, just announced that it had amassed more than 1 billion followers across all platforms. The most well-known outlet TheSoul Publishing operates is most probably “5 Minute Crafts” (72 million subscribers on Youtube, 104 million on Facebook and 45 million on Instagram). TheSoul can attribute the bulk of its reach to clickbait, ridiculous lifehacks and questionable experiments—many of which apparently do not work.
While 5 Minute Crafts got its start on Youtube, Facebook is now the most significant platform. According to Socialblade, 5 Minute Crafts had 289 million views per month on YouTube; according to Crowdtangle that figure is up to 330 million on Instagram and 1.6 billion on Facebook. Tubular Labs even lists TheSoul Publishing as the world’s biggest video production company in the world. In terms of social media reach, it is on par with the world’s second-most valuable entertainment company—Walt Disney.