How Facebook Is Luring Media Partners to Its Planned Video News Hub

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Credit: Illustration by Ad Age, Composite images istock

Facebook's latest media ambitions include long-form news programs, too.

Details are starting to emerge about the news section Facebook has said it will build in its fledgling Watch video hub, apparently partly as an effort to encourage reputable information to compete with fake news. Axios reported this week that the news tab in Watch will arrive this summer.

And while it was known that Facebook has solicited proposals from about 10 media outlets to come up with news shows for Watch, the videos were largely expected to be short, in line with the predominant sensibility on platforms such as Snapchat. But some of the news outlets may actually pursue longer programming, making their shows more resemble TV than the drive-by videos that Facebook users have come to expect.

"The length depends on the type of publishers and the quality of the show," says one potential Facebook partner, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Digital publishers will be shorter, three to five minutes, while legacy media companies are longer up to 30 minutes."

Here's all there is to know about the program so far:

Who can join?

Facebook is talking to digital-first publishers, traditional publishers and TV networks about creating programming for the news video service, according to people familiar with the request for shows. Facebook has taken a similar approach with previous initiatives, such as its expensive 2016 push to develop live video with media partners such as BuzzFeed, New York Times and CNN.

Who will pay?

Facebook will pay publishers to produce the news program, as it did to motivate publishers to create shows for Facebook Live and the original introduction of Watch last year. Facebook paid up to $50,000 an episode for early Watch shows from partners like Business Insider, Group Nine Media, Mashable and Hearst.

"We couldn't do it if Facebook didn't pay," says a publisher familiar with the plans for the news section. "We would have to devote a whole team and a lot of resources, so they definitely will pay us."

News shows won't command the same price per episode as premium Watch shows, people familiar with the plan say, but with daily news videos the price could add up to millions of dollars for each program over the course of the year.

What types of shows?

The shows will at least last three minutes, but there could be shows up to 30 minutes long, and they would run daily—with a year-long commitment. Facebook doesn't want the quick-hit viral videos that typically appear in the News Feed; it wants appointment viewing in Watch, to make it a hub where people know they can go daily.

It's unclear precisely what formats the shows will take or the subjects on which they'll focus. Facebook is mostly concerned that the programs are exclusive to the platform and take advantage of its strengths in social media, encouraging commenting and sharing from the viewers, according to people familiar with the plan.

Why now?

This year, Facebook has been making changes to its News Feed algorithm that scare publishers, many of them longtime media partners of the social network. Facebook has said it will show fewer posts from publishers and favor posts from friends and family, meaning media outlets that have relied on Facebook are worried about losing audiences. At the same time, Facebook is trying to clean up fake news and disinformation, the kind that tarnished the 2016 election.

A carefully curated video news hub could mend relations with media partners and ensure a high level of quality control. Also, Facebook wants to draw viewers to Watch: If daily news is another way to get people to the video hub consistently, then that's a win.

How will publishers react?

So long as it foots the bill, Facebook can still attract big-name media companies to test new programs. However, there is a growing disaffection among some traditional players, suggesting its pool of willing guinea pigs could be shrinking.

Some publishers are wary of the social network given the latest News Feed changes and past disappointments with similar programs like Facebook Live and Instant Articles. Just this week, NBC News' Chairman Andrew Lack said he calls Facebook "Fakebook" after years of trying to work with the platform on new content programs without anything meaningful materializing.

"Facebook doesn't have value for publishers really," Lack said.

Facebook would like to see it differently, of course, and it has worked with various news companies and organizations to develop programs that help them use the social network. Some of the initiatives have led to new ways for publishers to land paying subscribers through Instant Articles, which also drive revenue to publishers through ads. Facebook says Instant Articles make $1.5 million a day.

Also, Facebook has said it is studying what media sources are deemed by users to be most credible and plans to give those publishers a higher priority in the News Feed, and it has been working with local news organizations to raise their profile on the social network, too.

"We want to help publishers connect with audiences outside of News Feed, and this preliminary test will allow us to work with a number of news organizations to experiment and figure out what works," Campbell Brown, Facebook's head of news partnerships, said in an email. "These types of tests are opportunities for us to learn and improve. The publishers who test with us go in with that knowledge and we appreciate their willingness to work so closely with us to try to find success."

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