Facebook Inc. is pursuing rights to music videos from major record labels, programming that could boost interest in its Watch video service, according to people familiar with the matter.
The company is in the midst of negotiating new licensing deals with the three largest music companies, Universal Music Group, Sony Music and Warner Music Group, and has asked for music video rights, said the people, who declined to be identified discussing transactions that haven’t been announced. Facebook has already begun testing music videos in Thailand and India, said two of the people.
Facebook’s current deals with record companies let users include songs in the background of videos they post on the social network, such as a clip from a wedding or a skateboarding stunt. But Facebook doesn’t yet have the rights to offer the official music videos to hit songs.
Music videos are among the most popular genres on YouTube, the world’s biggest online video service, and may increase video consumption on Facebook. Watch struggled to attract viewers after its debut in August 2017, as has a similar offering from Instagram called IGTV, which launched in June 2018.
Executives at Facebook have said Watch is catching on, and have touted its show “Red Table Talk,” which was nominated for a Daytime Emmy.
It’s not clear whether Facebook is prepared to mount a real challenge to YouTube. But music companies have been itching for Facebook to step forward and give them a credible alternative. Record companies have long complained that YouTube doesn’t pay them enough, considering the amount of music consumed on the site, and they also argue YouTube has been too loose with copyright protections. However, yanking their music from the service would rob artists of a valuable promotional tool. And, under current copyright rules, pirated versions of their songs would likely proliferate if legitimate versions were scrubbed.
Facebook commands more than 2 billion users a month and Instagram attracts more than 1 billion. Both social-media services are already vital promotional tools for artists, and musicians Selena Gomez and Ariana Grande rank among the most-followed accounts on Instagram. But neither site is a major digital video portal in the way YouTube is. Music videos could help change that.