Facebook — The Video News Hegemon?

Photo of Tim Mulligan
by Tim Mulligan

Last Wednesday Facebook officially announced that it was partnering with a number of well-known news publishers to provide original news programmes that will feature on Watch, Facebook’s video service which is currently only available in the US. The news and current affairs roster for Watch will feature exclusive video content from established players such as ABC News, CNN, Fox News, and Univision. For the first time Facebook will be paying for news content on its platform— a significant break from its previous modus operandi. As MIDiA Research correctly identified in December 2016, Facebook is now a media company and this move into commissioning news content is the latest chapter in the tech major’s strategic realignment.

Why official news content matter to Facebook

The previous two years have been challenging for Facebook. Over that period, it has had to accept responsibility for the type of content published on the platform and the role it has played in disseminating news both globally and, specifically, in its home market of the US. As the largest provider of news in the US, Facebook has found itself under sustained scrutiny from US lawmakers over the explosion of fake news proliferating on the site and the rise of the filter bubble phenomenon. Alongside these two huge ethical challenges to the centrality of Facebook in the public gaze has been the pressure placed by news publishers around Facebook taking an increasing share of the revenues generated by monetising professional journalism on Facebook.

Creating a bespoke video news service on Watch allows Facebook to achieve a number of crucial strategic objectives for the company. Firstly, it accelerates the premium video commissioning content strategy by which Facebook is looking to use to retain users on its main platform. Secondly, it placates news media content partners by directly paying them for their content, thereby creating a new revenue stream for the publishers. Thirdly, it signals to the lawmakers in Washington that it is serious about tackling the blight of fake news on its platform by going as far as to directly pay for professional journalism to appear on Facebook.

The opportunity for news in the streaming video landscape

According to MIDiA Research consumer survey data, 21% of consumers in the US share news stories, using it as a way to define themselves digitally. It is effectively digital peacocking through news content, rather than through carefully curated selfies. News then logically becomes a promotional content format for ad-supported streaming video in the way that scripted drama has traditionally worked for subscription video on demand (SVOD).

Currently, none of the major SVOD services include news in their content offerings and only YouTube offers consistent short-form video current affairs coverage. If Facebook is able to present Watch as a meaningful and consistently high-quality news destination in the digital landscape, then there is a real opportunity for Facebook to gain consumer momentum.

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