WSJ Standing Back From Pack in Wary Approach to Facebook

No Live Video Deal for the Journal, Which Limits Instant Articles to Tech

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As dozens of media companies explore deeper ties with Facebook, one publisher has remained especially wary of the social network: Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

Unlike other news outlets, News Corp.'s Wall Street Journal hasn't struck a deal to create live videos for Facebook. And while some publishers make all of their stories available as Facebook "Instant Articles" by posting content directly to the platform, the Journal offers only its technology stories.

The newspaper industry views Facebook with a mix of excitement and trepidation. While the site has proven to be a source of new readers, publishers don't want to grow too dependent on it. That's especially true for the Journal, which has counted on online subscriptions for growth, not giving articles away for free.

At stake are the 1.6 billion Facebook users whose attention News Corp. and other publishers are attempting to grab. About 63% of the Journal's global desktop social-media visitors come from Facebook -- not as much as the traffic online-only competitors like BuzzFeed get, but enough to make News Corp. take Facebook seriously despite its concerns.

"No one wants be the guy that failed to get on the train," said Vivian Schiller, a former executive at media and tech companies including Twitter, NBC News and NPR. Still, "the Wall Street Journal has put a stake in the ground about maintaining full control over the data around the relationship with its audience," she said.

While News Corp. is in talks with Facebook about ways to expand the relationship, nothing is imminent, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private.

Figuring out when to work with Facebook is crucial to news publishers, which are still trying to settle on a long-term business model to compete in the internet age. Facebook needs the publishers to keep supplying news and video to bolster its role as the hub of online conversation.

Even publications like the New York Times that are creating daily Facebook Live videos still hold back much of their content from Instant Articles, citing concerns over reader data and giving away too much content for free.

The Journal's cautious approach looked wise last month, when Facebook said it would alter its News Feed rankings, highlighting posts from friends over those from publishers. The changes are expected to penalize some publishers that rely on traffic from people who follow their Facebook pages.

The Journal's parent company, News Corp., remains wary of viewing Facebook as a partner instead of a rival. Other publishers are "willing to subsume their identity underneath the embrace of a large platform" like Facebook, said Raju Narisetti, News Corp.'s senior VP-strategy.

"We don't believe that panic and pandering is a strategy," Mr. Narisetti said in an email. News Corp. must "resolve to not mortgage our future for the latest 'new-new' seductive feature dangled as a come-hither by those who have no desire to pay for the creation and sustenance of vital journalism."

A broader pact with Facebook could offer News Corp. a way to increase digital revenue to make up for declines in its print business. Ad revenue in the news division slid 15% in the quarter that ended in March. To grow, the company is trying to expand its digital real estate business and boost online subscriptions at the Journal, which totaled 893,000 at the end of that period.

Facebook declined to comment. The company has been working with publishers with paywalls by introducing a product that allows them to collect users' email addresses, which can be used to market online subscriptions. Facebook has also increased the amount of advertising on Instant Articles and given publishers access to data on how their stories perform after getting feedback from media companies.

Almost 140 media companies and celebrities have contracts to create live videos for Facebook, the Wall Street Journal reported last month. The New York Times creates on average two to seven Facebook Live videos a day on weekdays, according to spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha. Though the Journal doesn't have a deal with Facebook, it creates Facebook Live videos "almost daily," spokeswoman Colleen Schwartz said.

Bloomberg, the parent of Bloomberg News, competes with News Corp. and other media outlets in providing financial news and information. Bloomberg regularly evaluates various initiatives from Facebook and other social platforms, according to Bloomberg Media spokeswoman Amanda Cowie.

Some publishers say they've found readers are more likely to share stories that are part of Instant Articles because they load faster on smartphones. Yet while the experience has improved for users, there was a "misunderstanding" by some publishers who assumed those stories would appear more prominently in Facebook's news feed, said Ms. Schiller, who is now a consultant to media companies.

"There was this promise that Instant Articles was going to be the great salvation," she said. "That has not come to pass."

-- Bloomberg News