'Lean Back': Facebook Looks to Woo Viewers and Brands With TV-Like Content

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Facebook is breaking video into three categories for advertisers to consider, according to one agency executive: 'on the go,' 'lean forward' and 'lean back.'
Facebook is breaking video into three categories for advertisers to consider, according to one agency executive: 'on the go,' 'lean forward' and 'lean back.' Credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Facebook wants users to "lean back." No, that's not the sequel to Sheryl Sandberg's book "Lean In"; it's how people watch TV, unlike the way they scroll through the News Feed.

For months, Facebook has been talking to its biggest media and publishing partners to introduce TV-worthy programming to the social network. Last week, names of new reality and scripted shows were reported in The Hollywood Reporter -- the competition series "Last State Standing" and the comedy "Loosely Exactly Nicole," late of MTV.

Now, Facebook is talking to brands about how video will evolve on the network, from low-quality, user-generated clips to TV-quality offerings that viewers sit back to watch, according to advertisers and media partners. Facebook hopes people will tune in to shows and watch for longer periods of time, rather than just stumble upon videos in the News Feed and quickly swipe away.

"Social is not snackable any more," said one top agency executive, speaking on condition of anonymity because Facebook recently privately shared its video vision.

The agency exec said that Facebook is breaking video into three categories for advertisers to consider: There is "on the go," "lean forward" and "lean back" video.

Facebook has always been about on-the-go video, where people check their feeds while on line at banks or sitting at traffic lights. The lean-forward viewer might watch for longer amounts during, say, a commute.

But the "lean back" experience is the essence of what's happening on social media platforms these days, as Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat try to become the TV of the future. They are all talking with media and entertainment companies about launching shows, which gives advertisers more options to run their commercials and reach people who skip them on TV.

"Snapchat and Facebook are going deep on these new longer-form content initiatives," the agency exec said. On Monday, Time Warner announced a deal to develop original shows and buy ads on Snapchat.

Twitter also is in the conversation, with programming such as the upcoming 24-hour Bloomberg channel. It has shows coming from BuzzFeed and other media partners.

Bloomberg has been offering advertisers ad packages that cost up to $6 million to help launch the channel as sponsors, according to people familiar with those deal terms.

It's unclear exactly what $6 million would get brands, and details are still negotiable, one person with knowledge of the Bloomberg offering said.

Many brands are most interested in programs that guarantee them a youthful audience, one that's increasingly difficult to reach through TV. Snapchat has based its whole business on that proposition.

As for Facebook, it is set on challenging YouTube, one of the few digital platforms with mass reach and consistent inventory for video ads. YouTube stumbled earlier this year when ads were found running alongside offensive content, and advertisers began questioning how safe certain digital environs were for their messages. The scrutiny expanded to Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter, and that's partly why they have been so eager to adopt professional programming over user-created content.

Facebook felt the pressure from brands over live streaming videos, from people all over the world, that featured disturbing instances of violence and extremism.

Facebook plans to launch its video section to alleviate some of those concerns and distance professional content from the rest. The video hub has been dubbed "spotlight," according to media and advertising partners.

"Brand safety is the big conversation," said one ad exec, speaking on condition of anonymity. "When brands are uncomfortable with a platform they pull all their money and go to TV, until they can prove they have the infrastructure in place."

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