Why Bloomberg, ESPN and others aren’t doing Facebook Instant Articles
A year after Facebook Instant Articles launched, 100 or so publishers were taking advantage of the feature, which loads mobile articles lightning fast.
But there are some notable holdouts. Some are still evaluating the benefits of the feature. Others are saying the faster speed of publishing directly in Facebook’s ecosystem isn’t worth the financial tradeoff. Not all publishers are caving to the mighty Facebook.
Bloomberg Media, for one, hasn’t published any of its articles to Instant Articles. Bloomberg has long said that publishers should be careful about ceding their distribution to platforms generally. With Google’s version of a fast-loading mobile page, AMP, it has limited participation to its opinion vertical Bloomberg View, saying AMP doesn’t support all of Bloomberg’s data and vendor needs. The publisher is arguably better situated than other publishers to take that stance, since it has its own web, TV and radio properties to reach consumers.
With Instant Articles, Bloomberg Media’s global digital head Scott Havens said Bloomberg’s approach isn’t about just chasing scale or accepting the standard terms offered by platforms, and that Instant Articles doesn’t meet some of its financial criteria.
“These guys want to have the content hosted in their own environment,” Havens said. “Our view is, why not create a really fast mobile template ourselves? Publishers are better off controlling their own destinies, content-wise, experience-wise, with their own customers.” To that end, with its new vertical, Bloomberg Technology, the publisher claimed it cut the page-load time by as much as half.
Bloomberg isn’t alone in holding out. The Wall Street Journal, ESPN, CBS News, NPR, the Financial Times and Vice News are other notable publishers that have been all but absent from Instant.
From the start, some publishers have been wary of Instant Articles because by publishing directly to Facebook, they forego some reader data and ability to monetize their articles. In the case of subscription-based publishers like the Journal, they have the added motivation of getting readers back to their site where they can try to entice them to subscribe.
Kristin Heitmann, gm of WSJ Digital, said as much in a statement, saying that the Journal recognizes the role of Facebook “to introduce new readers to The Wall Street Journal and build a path to membership.”
Of the others, Vice, NPR and the FT said they’re experimenting with the format. “NPR.org has been consistently among the fastest news websites, so the motivation to go all-in, whether it’s Instant Articles or any other accelerated page project, was not as great from the outset,” a spokeswoman said. ESPN tested Instant with some of its sites but have since moved away from it because it already has a large audience on its own platforms and can monetize well there. CBS hasn’t responded to requests for comment.
In addition to the holdouts, some of the feature’s earliest adopters, including NBC News and National Geographic, have been posting less to Instant Articles as they evaluate the feature and figure out what types of articles the feature is best for driving reader engagement.
There are arguments to make on either side. Instant Articles load 10 times faster than regular links, which can mean they get more engagement than links. For a small publisher trying to scale up, it can make sense to take full advantage of the Facebook firehose.
But distributing content takes a decent amount of work, and while there can be a first-mover advantage, it can also be wasted if Facebook decides to change the project objectives, said Sachin Kamdar, CEO of Parsely. “For companies like Bloomberg and the WSJ, whose business model doesn’t necessarily depend on audience size, waiting makes complete sense to me,” he said.
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