The year in new platform features and tweaks, ranked

Live by the platform, die by the platform.

As more and more publishers elected to distribute directly to social in 2016, spurred on in many cases by the platform themselves, they found that there is a cost to publishing in an environment they don’t fully control. If a platform decides to roll out a new product and make it a priority, or decides to tweak an existing product, there is very little that publishers can do except adapt.

Here, then, are the biggest platform features and tweaks from the past 12 months, and the impact they had on publishers of all sizes and stripes, in descending order of bigness:

Live on Facebook, it’s…
It was the Year of Facebook Live. The range of organizations that have experimented with the format since Facebook made the tool widely available at the beginning of the year is as impressive as some of their videos have been unwatchable. News publications like Fusion used Facebook Live during the presidential election. TMZ adopted Facebook Live to roll out entertainment and gossip shows on the platform. Even the Denver Broncos embraced Facebook Live to broadcast quarterback Peyton Manning’s retirement press conference.

The appeal was rather obvious: Here was a tool on a platform that made it cheap and easy to shoot live videos and reach a massive audience.

Facebook Live’s popularity was the direct result of its being a priority for Facebook, which opened up its checkbook to pay 140 publishers and personalities to broadcast regularly on the platform. And yet, unless you were in that exclusive club, it’s still hard to make money on Facebook.

I want my Snapchat TV
Speaking of exclusive clubs: Snapchat Discover continued to give 40-something publishers the chance to make content for and generate revenue from the app’s young audience. But while Snapchat Discover started out like a magazine rack, this year parent company Snap decided it wanted the section to function more like a TV network, which meant courting Hollywood to produce original shows for Snapchat.

Naturally, some Discover partners followed suit. MTV started producing original series for its international Discover channel, with plans to do more for the U.S. edition. ESPN rolled out a Snapchat version of its “College GameDay” pregame show. MTV’s decision to launch original Snapchat shows “came out of conversations with Snapchat,” said Joanna Wells, vp of digital for MTV International. “We talked about doing shows for them and what they wanted on the platform.”

To be clear, this was no small change. Snapchat’s TV ambitions for Discover include changing how it conducts business with media partners. Instead of sharing ad revenue with partners, Snapchat now wants to pay a flat licensing fee and keep all (or at least most) of the ad revenue.

“The challenge is, nothing’s guaranteed,” said one publishing executive at a Discover publisher. “It’s not like Snapchat is saying, ‘Go do it, and you’ll get the money.’ You now have to pitch them and get it approved. How much time and energy are you wasting by developing something that might get picked up?”

Facebook says your friends are more important
In June, Facebook decided it wanted to prioritize posts shared by users’ friends and family more than the pages they followed. It was the second time in a span of three months that Facebook altered its algorithm — and once again, it left digital publishers in the dust as they tried to assess exactly what this would mean for their business.

Down goes Snapchat Discover
In October, Snapchat moved Discover and Live Stories content further down the stories page, which resulted in some Discover publishers seeing daily viewership fall by as much as 33 percent. One of the publishers said its viewership is slowly crawling back, having recovered half of its lost audience. But it doesn’t change the fact that one small change removed a significant chunk of the publisher’s daily audience — and it won’t be the last time a platform does something like this.

“A lot of people will bear the difficult zigging and zagging given the potential financial upside and the understanding how massive Snapchat’s young audience is and how difficult it is to become a partner of theirs,” said an executive at a longtime Discover media partner.

Instagram hearts video
Sometimes lost in all the Facebook and Snapchat talk is the emergence of Instagram as a legitimate social video distributor. ESPN’s “SportsCenter” account, Bleacher Report and Tastemade are all big-time Instagram video publishers. This includes the Snapchat-clone Instagram Stories, which is already netting Insider and brands like Nike huge audiences on a platform that’s less closed off than Snapchat.

“Instagram took the best product from Snapchat,” Nicholas Carlson, editor-in-chief of Insider, told Digiday. “I think Stories will drive usage for Instagram going forward; that’s part of [why we made] the bet for sure.”