The media today: Facebook woos publishers with video promises, again

Despite all the dashed hopes from some of its other ventures, including Facebook Live and mobile-friendly Instant Articles, Facebook is trying yet again to woo publishers with promises of future video riches. According to a report from Axios, the giant social network is working with a number of media companies on a news vertical that Facebook intends to add to its Watch video portal, as part of a planned expansion of the video feature first announced in February.

Watch, which was launched last year with much fanfare, consists of a new tab dedicated to streaming long-form video. It’s much more like regular TV than much of the video that usually shows up on Facebook: Instead of 10-second loops of cat or dog antics, Watch carries shows from established media outlets like MTV and Condé Nast. There’s a heavy emphasis on sports programming, including Major League Baseball games and content from the NBA.

ICYMI: “People ask me how I stomached watching so many [Kellyanne Conway] interviews”

It’s easy to see why some media companies have jumped on board the Watch train: Facebook paid some of the publishers up front for their content, and said that once it was up and running, Watch partners would be able to keep 55 percent of any ad revenue generated by the videos, with the rest going to Facebook. Now the company is focusing on news programming, and working with 10 as-yet-unnamed publishing partners, Axios says. Videos have to be a minimum of three minutes in length, and the news vertical is expected to launch this summer.

What’s surprising is that so many media companies would rush to partner with Facebook when there are so many examples of such hopes not panning out. The company’s initial short-form video push also came with much fanfare, and millions of dollars in payments both to publishers like The New York Times and to celebrities. But as Facebook’s subsidies for Live video waned, many outlets jumped off the train. And thanks to that and recent changes in the News Feed algorithm, some companies that had pushed a “pivot to video” strategy have been left high and dry. Some missed revenue estimates and others have shut down.

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Here’s more on Facebook’s somewhat tangled relationship with media companies and video:

  • Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of news partnerships, says that despite past hiccups, the social network is committed to its latest video venture. “Timely news video is the latest step in our strategy to make targeted investments in new types of programming on Facebook Watch,” she tells Axios. “As part of our broader effort to support quality news on Facebook, we plan to meet with a wide-range of potential partners to develop, learn, and innovate on news programming.”
  • When Facebook first launched Watch, it pushed its news partners for as much short video as possible. But the company found that the quality level of much of the content was lackluster, and as a result it drove little to no engagement, and therefore advertisers weren’t interested in being part of it. The social network then pushed for higher-quality video and started restricting who could monetize their shows and who couldn’t.
  • Some media partners may have overcome their skepticism about Watch because Facebook has made it clear it intends to devote some major resources to building a presence in video programming. According to a report by The Wall Street Journal earlier this year, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said he plans to spend as much as $1 billion on original video content this year. Facebook’s ultimate goal appears to be an all-out assault on YouTube’s status as the largest digital video platform.


Other notable stories:

  • UN experts looking into ongoing human-rights abuses in Myanmar, where Rohingya Muslims are being persecuted, pointed a finger at Facebook, saying fake news and spread via the giant social network have put lives at risk. Several journalists who work in the region talked with CJR about this earlier this year, saying Facebook has replaced the traditional media for many users in such countries, and false reports spread rapidly.
  • Some British MPs are calling for Russia Today’s UK broadcasting license to be revoked after reports that Russia was behind the recent poisoning of a former Russian double agent and his daughter, who were found unconscious on a park bench in Salisbury, England on March 4. A Labour MP asked the government to stop Russia Today from “broadcasting its propaganda,” but RT said it was being unfairly singled out.
  • Following up on Vice Media: Former A&E Networks head Nancy Dubuc was officially named the new CEO, replacing co-founder Shane Smith, who becomes executive chairman. Dubuc was already a board member of Vice because A&E owns a stake in the company, after Disney—which co-owns A&E with Hearst—invested $400 million in Vice in 2015. Vice has been hit by sexual harassment allegations.
  • BuzzFeed co-founder and CEO Jonah Peretti talked with Digiday about the future of the company and its commitment to news. Peretti said that he thinks Google and Facebook are going to do more to support news because “if they don’t, they’ll be regulated.” He spoke with CJR recently about a range of similar topics.
  • Sabrina Toppa writes for CJR about a movement in Pakistan to get legislation passed that would prevent attacks on journalists. In the past 15 years, 117 Pakistani journalists have been killed on the job, and attacks on reporters lead to self-censorship by media outlets, which puts press freedom at risk. According to the World Press Freedom Index, the country ranks 139th out of 180 worldwide.

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Mathew Ingram is CJR's chief digital writer. Previously, he was a senior writer with Fortune magazine. He has written about the intersection between media and technology since the earliest days of the commercial internet. His writing has been published in The Washington Post and the Financial Times as well as Reuters and Bloomberg.