- Campbell Brown / Facebook
- Facebook is rolling out a new hub within Watch specifically for news publishers.
- It’s an interesting play for Facebook, which has recently veered away from news. But it’s also seeking to create habitual viewing of Watch – and news may fit the bill.
- And despite concerns about Facebook dropping funding, publishers feel that the social network is serious about its ambitions for quality journalism.
- CNN, Mic, Univision, and ATTN are among the first publishers to make dedicated news shows for Watch.
Facebook wants to get people to actually watch Watch.
So the company is turning to a crop of media companies that it has recently had a rocky relationship with for help: news organizations.
After months of speculation, Facebook is formally rolling out a dedicated news tab within its Watch video section featuring shows created by a handful of top media companies like CNN, Fox News, ABC News, and Univision.
It’s an interesting play for Facebook, which has spent the past year trying to get its millions of users to deliberately visit Watch, its dedicated web-video hub. Watch got off to something of a shaky start last year, as it focused on short-form entertainment series that were all over the map in terms of quality.
Enter traditional news organizations, which have experience in drawing habitual audiences.
Facebook’s embrace of hard news is somewhat ironic, given recent events
Publishers’ relationships with Facebook have been up and down for years. Things have been particularly fraught for the past year, after the social network announced a tweak to its algorithm that prioritized content from users’ friends and family members over posts from publishers and brands.
That move, coupled with Facebook’s early entertainment focus on Watch, seemed to send a clear message to the market that Facebook didn’t want anything to do with news.
And before the algorithm tweaks, Facebook had more than once shifted gears on its content strategies. In 2016, for example, Facebook started paying a group of top media companies to produce videos for Facebook Live, something that, for the most part, has petered out.
But Facebook has been trying to mend fences with news, since Watch needs all the help it can get
Over the past six months, Campbell Brown, the head of global partnerships at Facebook, and her team have worked to smooth over some publisher frustrations by “giving a boost to quality news” in News Feeds, she told Business Insider.
The culmination of that work is a slate of seven shows created for Facebook Watch that are also paid for by Facebook. The shows range from quick daily programs to weekly shows that detail conspiracy and fraud happening in Alabama.
By the end of the summer, Facebook says, news shows will roll out from more than a dozen publishers, some of which will feature big TV names. CNN, for example, is bringing Anderson Cooper to Facebook with a show called “Anderson Cooper Full Circle” that is shot vertically to be viewed on mobile devices.
According to Brown, ABC News is providing a livestream so that breaking news can quickly be piped onto Facebook.
“These partners are not just cutting up TV shows and putting it on Facebook,” Brown said. “These are all partners who are already doing quality news video on Facebook and know how to engage their audience.”
Compared with videos that appear in the News Feed that get millions of eyes, the new shows will require users to navigate the Watch section to find them, meaning a series could get fewer views than the stream of content pumped out for pages that appear in News Feeds.
Plus, news is not exactly hard to find on the web. And clips from anchors like Cooper are somewhat ubiquitous.
However, Watch is designed to appeal to a loyal group of “intentional” viewers who want real-time content, according to Brown.
“It’s important to have a destination to go during big breaking-news moments,” Brown said.
Publishers have been through this before with Facebook
This isn’t the first time Facebook has courted publishers with Watch. Last August, Facebook funded a variety of entertainment-focused programs from media companies like Tastemade, MLB, National Geographic, and A+E Networks. Similar to that campaign, publishers can run ad breaks during their programs and split revenue with Facebook.
After those 12-month deals ended, Facebook chose not to renew many of the shows, leaving some publishers cautious about going all in on a new version of Watch.
Mic’s publisher, Cory Haik, acknowledged that Facebook’s algorithm “is a hard thing to figure out.” But after testing a news-geared program this spring called “For the Record” that’s hosted by Jack Smith IV, a senior writer and correspondent, “the performance there felt quite healthy,” she said.
She added that Mic was “feeling pretty good that there will be mechanisms there” to succeed with a new show called “Mic Dispatch,” which airs twice a week and profiles “individuals whose stories reveal the human picture that lies beyond the headlines.”
ATTN is another publisher that was involved in the first batch of Watch shows. Its cofounder Jarrett Moreno said the company was approached a couple of months ago by Facebook and asked to create a different type of news program from a daily recap.
The publisher will create weekly three-to-five-minute shows aimed at “creating entertaining content around what’s happening in the world.”
“We’ve had a lot of success with Watch shows, and quality content performs well in the News Feed,” Moreno said.
New engagement models
Publishers like CNN are also experimenting with new tools to make programs more interactive. Brown said CNN’s show would include polls at the bottom of the screen that let viewers answer questions throughout.
“It was important that Facebook understands that premium and top-tier content has value,” said Andrew Morse, an executive vice president and general manager at CNN Digital Worldwide. He added that Cooper would promote the Facebook show on his TV program but that “discoverability” of the content “should be baked” into Facebook.
While CNN is programming the content exclusively for Facebook, 50% of its mobile and desktop traffic comes directly to the site, meaning it has relied less on platforms for distribution than other publishers.
“Some newer entities built their entire publishing strategy around Facebook distribution,” Morse said.