Facebook, learning from its agitated relationship with publishers, is working on a commercial product that could prove to broadcasters it wants to share rather than steal media budgets chasing the shift in how TV is watched.
It was only a matter of time before the social network made such a play; advertisers are no longer treating social networks as a way to push their 30-second ads in front of more people. They are going to these platforms to reach audiences that are cutting the cord or never even had a cord to begin with.
It’s little wonder then why Facebook has been meeting broadcasters in recent months. TV executives tell Facebook’s director of agency partnerships Ed Couchman two things: that it is expensive to produce content, and it is hard to protect the intellectual property of their content on third party platforms, areas which they believe Facebook should support them on.
When probed on specifics to overcome broadcasters’ monetisation woes, Couchman speculated that an Instant Articles-like proposition could work for them, but admitted “we need to work it out together because quite simply we don’t have the answers”.
What little he can share hints at the feature giving broadcasters something they have grappled with for many years – longevity with viewers. Couchman explains that a broadcaster only has the length of its show to build a relationship with viewers, making it difficult to build anticipation around the next episode or engage the audience before and after it airs.
“The question is how can you have a better relationship with the viewer and that is where I think Facebook can come in,” he adds. Facebook’s ambition for TV is for it to act as “more than paid comms”, paving the way for the platform to develop a standalone platform for broadcasters to push content directly onto.
What it all comes down to for broadcasters is making their TV budgets work harder off the back of digital as new power players like Netflix and Amazon steal eyeballs.
It’s a tricky balance for broadcasters at a time when the advent of OTT and live-streaming threatens to pull more attention (and consequently advertisers) toward on-demand services and social networks. In fact, Facebook added nearly two Viacoms of ad revenue last quarter, according to Rich Greenfield, an analyst with the financial firm BTIG.
If that sounds threatening to broadcasters, then Couchman is at pains to reiterate what the company has claimed for some time – that it wants to amplify media rather than own it.
It’s a pledge publishers have found hard to swallow, primarily because the social network’s impact on their earnings is more pronounced. Broadcasters may find that pitch easier to buy into given TV still sits at the heart of most media plans as seen by it recently surpassing £5bn in ad revenue for the first time. Recognising the value of the content driving that growth, Facebook is slowly maneuvering itself into a position where it could become a provider of online television.
This is a shift that has been years in the making. As it moves from second screen to first screen, Facebook has taken a leaf out of TV’s book when it comes to trying to offer the convenience of on-demand TV alongside the popularity of live broadcasts. This is exemplified by the BBC’s decision to use the live-streaming platform to announce this season’s line-up of Match of the Day with host Gary Lineker, and prior to that take audiences behind-the-scenes at the Olympics.
“Facebook Live can take you to places you wouldn’t normally go and enhance the linear output,” Couchman says, “With the Euros for example, BBC can do halftime analysis on Facebook Live. Sport is a really interesting area.”