The media today: Facebook tries to woo publishers with video promises, again

Despite all the dashed hopes from some of its other ventures, including short-form video and mobile-friendly Instant Articles, Facebook appears to be trying again to woo publishers with promises of future video riches. According to a report from Axios on Tuesday morning, the giant social network is reaching out to media companies and asking them to become partners in a news vertical that Facebook plans to add to its Watch video portal — .

Watch, which was launched last year with much fanfare, consists of a new tab with a dedicated stream of longer-form video programming that is 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 A&E and National Geographic. There’s also a fairly heavy emphasis on sports programming, including Major League Baseball games and behind-the-scenes content from the NBA.

It’s easy to see why a number of media companies 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 revenue generated by the videos, with the rest going to the network. Now the company is focusing on news programming, and working with 10 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 like comedian Kevin Hart. But Facebook’s desire for short-form video quickly waned, and some companies that had pushed a “pivot to video” strategy were left high and dry. Some missed revenue estimates and others have shut down.

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 with video, the social network is committed to its latest venture. “Timely news video is the latest step in our strategy to make targeted investments in new types of programming on Facebook Watch,” she told 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 tailored to succeed in a social environment.”
  • When Facebook first launched Watch, it pushed its news partners for as much short video as possible. But later, 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 Face 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, co-founder and 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.
  • In one of the company’s latest moves to lock up the rights to lucrative content, Facebook signed a deal with Major-League Baseball worth between $30 million and $35 million that gives the social network the exclusive right to stream 25 weekly baseball games through Facebook Watch this year. The games will be produced by MLB but will be optimized for the Facebook site and its mobile apps.

Other notable stories:

  • UN experts looking into ongoing human-rights abuses in Myanmar, where Rohingya Muslims have been persecuted and killed, pointed a finger at Facebook, saying fake news and conspiracy theories spread via the giant social network have put Rohingya lives at risk. Several journalists who work in the region talked with CJR about this problem earlier this year, saying Facebook has replaced the traditional news media for many users in developing countries like Myanmar, and false reports spread rapidly.
  • Some British MPs are calling for Russia Today’s 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, and noted that it had a better regulatory track record than many other British broadcasters.
  • There’s been a shakeup at the top of Vice Media: Former A&E Networks head Nancy Dubuc was 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, as well as criticism that its corporate culture ignored the obvious warning signs of such behavior.
  • 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, saying the company is committed to remaining in the news business despite somewhat lower returns.
  • 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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