MENLO PARK, CALIFORNIA – Facebook is pressing its ongoing offensive against “fake news” with a novel idea: it will fully shoulder the costs of producing what it claims are “high quality” news shows by a handful of mainstream media outlets.
In so doing, it hopes to kill three birds with one stone: please the traditional media giants; ward off the reputation that it proliferates misinformation, and open up new audiences for its obscure TV-style streaming video platform.
On Tuesday, the social networking giant announced that it would begin airing exclusive programs from Disney-owned ABC News, AL.com, Attn:, CNN, Fox News, Mic, and Univision. Buzzfeed is also reported to be among media outlets with shows that will be rolled out in coming weeks. Featured hosts will include CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Shepard Smith of Fox News, and Jorge Ramos of Univision.
Facebook head of Global News Partnerships, Campbell Brown, said Tuesday:
Earlier this year we made a commitment to show news that is trustworthy, informative, and local on Facebook. As a part of that commitment, we are creating a dedicated section within Watch for news shows produced exclusively for Facebook by news publishers. With this effort, we are testing a destination for high quality and timely news content on the platform.”
News on Facebook Watch
Stay up to date with news on Facebook Watch. Introducing new shows with breaking news, daily briefings, quality coverage and much more coming Summer 2018.
Posted by Facebook Watch on Wednesday, June 6, 2018
It’s only the latest salvo in the company’s recent crusade to “protect democracy” by cracking down on “fake news,” alleged “interference from nation states” in U.S. political processes, and political “polarization” across the globe that is blamed on social sites like Facebook.
Other moves range from a partnership announced last month with pro-NATO think-tank The Atlantic Council and various algorithm changes meant to prioritize what it calls “meaningful” content and “news that is trustworthy, informative, and local.”
Many of these algorithm changes have resulted in independent or alternative news pages on Facebook – including MintPress News and a variety of local community activist groups – simply vanishing from users’ news feeds, causing user traffic from Facebook to plunge and ad revenue to simply evaporate.
With an estimated budget of $90 million, Facebook hopes the new move will not only underscore its commitment to providing quality content but – more importantly – help the company accumulate ad revenue while boosting the obscure “Watch” section of the site. In addition to funding the production of the new shows, Facebook will also share ad revenue with the companies.
Facebook Watch was unveiled last August amid hopes the company could pose a credible direct challenge to Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube streaming video platform, yet many users still remain unaware that Watch exists.
Nevertheless, Facebook asserts that “Watch is the destination on Facebook where people come together around video” and “people enjoy coming to Watch to find timely, relevant content and to catch up with the publishers and creators they care about.”
Publishers have observed that programs produced for the Facebook video platform are typically viewed in the Facebook news feed alone, meaning that users are passively watching a bit of the show before scrolling down rather than clicking over to Watch.
A Facebook ad spotted in the DC Metro by Twitter user @unsuckdcmetro
Business Insider has reported that while the original TV-style shows produced for Facebook Watch garnered early viewership – often numbering in the millions – these numbers quickly collapsed following debut, indicating user apathy toward the platform.
“Facebook’s very committed to making Watch happen, and they want to bring content that they think will do well both for the publishers and for advertisers,” Jason Ehrich, Fox News senior vice president, told Reuters.
By betting on content that is easily found on cable or network television — or even YouTube — Facebook may be making a miscalculation. After all, Anderson Cooper or Shepard Smith are hardly likely to be remembered as Facebook’s equivalent to the Netflix original smash hits “Stranger Things” or “Narcos.”
However, Facebook will have at least demonstrated its willingness produce the news content large publishers have clamored for it to prioritize.
So far, the social network estimated to be valued at $550 billion has committed to funding the news shows on Facebook Watch for a year.
This foray into news publishing comes after beleaguered Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been forced to answer tough questions about the unauthorized sharing of customer data and the alleged spread of misinformation on the social network – the latter problem being one he’s “dead serious” about addressing.
Facebook – like search-engine giant Google – has also come under fire from large, traditional media monopolies for draining the pool of digital advertising, forcing publishers to rely on leftover scraps from advertisers and the tender mercies of Facebook’s algorithm changes. The platform’s “walled garden,” or Facebook Instant Articles, also disallowed pay-gated sites like The Wall Street Journal, effectively preventing WSJ access to the fast in-app-loaded pages optimized for mobile browsing.
The situation reportedly led to a confrontation between News Corporation CEO Robert Thomson, Rupert Murdoch, and Zuckerberg that left the Facebook CEO shaken.
As reported by Wired:
According to people familiar with the conversation, the two News Corp leaders accused Facebook of making dramatic changes to its core algorithm without adequately consulting its media partners, wreaking havoc according to Zuckerberg’s whims. If Facebook didn’t start offering a better deal to the publishing industry, Thomson and Murdoch conveyed in stark terms, Zuckerberg could expect News Corp executives to become much more public in their denunciations and much more open in their lobbying. They had helped to make things very hard for Google in Europe. And they could do the same for Facebook in the U.S.”
Top Photo | Anderson Cooper attends the Turner Network 2016 Upfronts in New York. Cooper will star in Facebook Watch’s new news programming. Evan Agostin | Invision | AP
Elliott Gabriel is a former staff writer for teleSUR English and a MintPress News contributor based in Quito, Ecuador. He has taken extensive part in advocacy and organizing in the pro-labor, migrant justice and police accountability movements of Southern California and the state’s Central Coast.
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