September 12, 2017 - 10:12 AMT
Facebook tests ‘Instant Videos’ for downloading content using Wi-Fi

Facebook doesn’t want you to burn through your mobile data plan just to keep watching its videos. That’s why it’s testing a new feature called Instant Videos that downloads and caches Facebook videos to your phone while you’re on Wi-Fi so you can watch them later on the go for free. Users will see lightning bolt icons on pre-loaded videos, TechCrunch says.

The Instant Video feature is reminiscent of Instant Articles, Facebook’s hosted content format that loads much faster than mobile websites so users don’t drop off waiting for a publisher’s articles to appear. Because videos load even slower than web pages, publishers might be keen to get involved to ensure maximum viewability for their clips.

The feature could also benefit Facebook’s new Watch tab of original video content, allowing it to cache episodes so people could watch them on a train or elsewhere that they might not have a strong connection or want to use up their data plan watching longer-form videos.

Facebook confirms to TechCrunch that the Instant Video test is available to a small percentage of Android users. A screenshot of Instant Videos was first shared by “Devesh Logendran” using a pseudonym to TNW’s director of social media Matt Navarra. Now we’ve confirmed with Facebook that the goal is to remove data costs as a barrier to watching its videos.

Previously, Facebook has tried to adapt its service for differing bandwidth and data prices by re-ranking News Feed to prioritize low file-size content while downranking videos if you’re on a slow connection, or replaying stories you’d already seen.

While Instant Articles has mostly focused on the speed and convenience of reading news on Facebook, Instant Video focuses on the cost and accessibility. That could make the feature a major boon to Facebook’s efforts in the developing world. There, mobile data prices can be quite high compared to average incomes, and spotty network connections can make watching video frustrating.