New-media startup Attn just put up a billboard on Sunset Boulevard to get the word out about the new show it is making with Facebook. Somebody had to do it, and it wasn't likely to be Facebook.
This summer, Attn forged a partnership with Facebook to create the show "Undivided," joining CNN, Fox News, ABC, Insider, NowThis and others developing digital news programs for Faceook's Watch streaming video hub. It's not unusual that a media company would market its own Watch show, but the billboard is the first to promote one of the new news programs. The billboard also illustrates how much media companies hope to reap from appearing on Watch.
"We want to be looked upon as a brand that can play with the big boys," says Brad Haugen, president of Attn. "Sunset Boulevard is right up there with Times Square, and now we are right up there with a billboard alongside Netflix and Amazon."
Facebook is also trying to boost the signal for the shows, but mostly on its own platform and not through outside media buys. It places promoted posts for Watch series in users' News Feeds. and appears to be favoring Watch shows in its algorithm that determines unpaid appearances in the Feed as well, according to people familiar with the strategy.
Facebook declined to comment for this article.
Watch shows generate two to three times as many views as videos on Facebook that aren't part of the hub, an executive at a Facebook publishing partner says. "It seems like Facebook really believes in the project," the executive says. "And we embraced Watch, too. When we saw that performance difference, we knew we should be doing more of that."
But promoting Watch shows off the platform, even when Facebook helps underwrite the programming, remains mostly up to publishers.
On Friday, the billboard made its debut. Haugen would not say how much it cost, only that prices in that area can reach $100,000 and more. The sign will be up for a few weeks, Haugen says, and it promotes the weekly news program "Undivided," featuring internet-famous talent such as Trae Crowder, Hannah Stocking and Juanpa Zurita. "Undivided" debuted in July and now has 86,000 followers on its channel.
Attn paid for the billboard, although it had to get Facebook's approval to use the Watch brand in the message.
Facebook is still feeling its way through what type of shows work—reality, dating, sports, travel, lifestyle or scripted—and it has had some cultural breakthroughs like "Tom Vs. Time," a documentary-style series about Tom Brady. Facebook did run TV ads for that one; some media partners have griped that they haven't gotten the same splashy treatment.
Facebook developed the news section partly to boost more mainstream media sources that could serve as a counter to less-credible current events content prevalent on the platform—the Alex Jones wing.
Facebook paid news companies to produce the first batch of programs that started rolling out this summer. Media outlets are still signing on. The BBC recently announced that it has a program called "Cut Through the Noise" coming to Watch.
It's still uncertain how well Watch is doing. Facebook says 50 million people watch its shows for at least a minute every month in the U.S., but a recent survey from the research company the Diffusion Group said half of U.S. Facebook users have never heard of Watch. Also, only 6 percent are daily Watch viewers in the U.S., the survey claimed.
But because Facebook is so large, with more than 2 billion users worldwide, even a small sliver could amount to large audiences.
"Our show is starting to build audiences and it's had some success so far," Haugen says. "With the billboard, the message we want to send is to all our partners, not just Facebook, we believe in the content we make."