While momentum seems to have slowed a little with Facebook’s video-focused ‘Watch’ platform, The Social Network has been working behind the scenes, readying for their next big content push. Last week, Facebook announced a new deal to air 25 Major League Baseball games on the platform – at a reported cost of up to $35 million for the rights – and now, Axios is reporting that Facebook’s also arranging deals with news companies to create exclusive news programming for Watch, building on their video offering.
Both deals are obviously significant, but the news programming is particularly notable considering Facebook’s current challenges in facilitating the spread of fake news, on one hand, and restricting Page and publisher reach on the other. Pushing to have news providers create exclusive content would obviously have benefits on the first point – if Facebook can vet the publishers who participate, it can also promote that content, giving them a means to share more accurate information, particularly during breaking news events.
But the second may also work against them. Given Facebook’s shift in focus towards more ‘meaningful interactions’ and person-to-person sharing (as opposed to person-to-page), publishers would rightfully question whether they should be investing more time and money into Facebook, knowing that, if the project doesn’t go how they expect, they can de-prioritize reach of such content and move on, leaving the publishers to foot the production bill.
Axios says that Facebook has been in touch with “both legacy and digital-first news publishers”, calling on them to test daily videos which, they say, would run for at least a year. The news videos need to be at least three minutes each, with Facebook planning to launch the new programming in Summer and optimize presentation and distribution as they air.
Worth noting too, according to Pew Research, two-thirds (67%) of Americans now get “at least some of their news on social media”, with Facebook the leading platform by far.
In terms of monetization, Axios reports that Facebook is “working strategically with publishers” to understand how to best arrange budget and revenue share options. But that’s obviously an area that needs focus – last December, CNN canceled their Snapchat-exclusive program ‘The Update’, noting that “there wasn’t a clear enough path to make money” from the content.
Facebook could well face the same challenge, though The Social Network obviously has the benefit of massive scale. And reach to the platform’s 1.4 billion daily active users is a benefit that will be hard to ignore for publishers, particularly those who are now looking for alternatives to augment reach declines caused by Facebook’s recent shift. But then, again, as noted, that’s a reminder that building audience on Facebook is risky, given you’re then at the mercy of those shifts.
From the perspective of content on the platform more broadly, if Facebook can make Watch work, that could have significant benefits for marketers, essentially enabling Facebook to provide TV-like advertising options, but with Facebook’s in-depth targeting tools. That could make TV ads more affordable, and more responsive – if Facebook’s able to cross the barriers before it, and get users consuming more video content on the platform, as a TV alternative, the benefits could be huge, both for The Social Network itself and businesses using it for advertising.
But again, the concerns over algorithm shifts will remain. If we’ve been shown anything this year, it’s that building your presence on Facebook comes with a level of risk, and increasing that reliance only stacks the scales further, ready for a potential tip. Various companies have already reported going out of business as a result of Facebook’s latest News Feed changes, and more and more are looking at their options to avoid over-reliance on Facebook traffic.
No doubt some publishers will still sign up, and no doubt Facebook has the resources and potential to make Watch a success, but you’d think there needs to be a period of relative stability to reassure publishers and get them back on board.
Really, this is something of a dichotomy for Facebook. After releasing a report last year which showed passive consumption of content on Facebook was bad for mental health, The Social Network announced a new focus on boosting real engagement and interaction. Which is all well and good, but growing evidence also shows that it’s person-to-person engagement - and the inevitable comparison that comes with it – that actually has the worst psychological impact.
To clarify, while passive consumption is bad, it’s passive consumption of content from other friends and connections that’s the worst. Seeing highlights from former high school acquaintances and comparing your life to theirs, former partners, relatives etc. People don’t tend to post their negative experiences on the platform, it’s all the good things, so you’re only ever seeing the positives, and that’s bad for mental health.
This appears to be the downfall of Facebook’s renewed focus on friends and family over Pages – as noted, many people are now reliant on Facebook as a news source, whether they should be or not. People like to see links and content, they use Facebook for this purpose, to see what their connections are discussing. Given this, it would seem that the re-focus on more posts from people could actually go counter to Facebook’s broader goal to increase the value of time spent.
Maybe, through Watch, Facebook can better counter this, and further push their video ambitions -maybe Facebook’s trying to force more publishers towards video, and away from text-based content, through their News Feed shifts.
Either way, it’s an interesting process to observe, and it’ll be interesting to see how Facebook goes about promoting Watch, and whether this new push heralds a much bigger shift towards on-platform video.