The executive who has led Facebook’s video and advertising efforts is now going to run the entire Facebook platform.
Last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that Chris Cox, Facebook’s chief product officer and widely considered the second-most powerful executive at the social giant, is leaving the company. Instead of replacing Cox, who oversaw Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger, those responsibilities will be spread out across four different executives reporting directly to Zuckerberg; Fidji Simo, a vp in charge of monetization, video and games on Facebook, is now in charge of the entire Facebook app.
Executives at major Facebook publishers praised Simo’s promotion, characterizing her as an attentive, understanding executive who brought media companies in early on Facebook’s plans for video. But as Zuckerberg steers his company toward private, encrypted messaging, it’s unclear how video and advertising will play a role in Zuckerberg’s new vision. And despite Simo’s positive relationship with publishing executives, she is entering a new role at Facebook at a time when Zuckerberg’s — and therefore the company’s — priorities have changed.
In her role as vp in charge of monetization, video and games at Facebook, Simo managed a team of more than 700 product managers and engineers focused on building new products and features for Facebook users.
Simo can claim a big role in helping Facebook’s advertising business hit $55 billion in annual revenue. It was her team that developed ads for mobile as well as building new business lines for Facebook including video advertising, and ad formats such as carousel ads and canvas ads. When Zuckerberg determined that video was going to become a critical part of Facebook’s future, Simo’s team was in charge of making that ambition a reality by developing products such as autoplay video in the news feed, Facebook Live and Facebook Watch.
Not all of Facebook’s efforts in video have been successful; news feed videos dramatically changed how publishers and users watched video, but Facebook Live proved to be a dud and the jury is still out on Facebook Watch. (Instant Articles, which Simo’s team also developed, has also lost its luster among media companies.)
In 2015, prior to Facebook announcing a new live video streaming feature, Simo reached out to executives at prominent publishers to preview the product, according to two executives who were briefed by Simo and her team on Facebook Live prior to its launch. “She basically showed us, confidentially, all of the early sketches and asked for feedback on whether we thought it made sense,” said one publishing executive.
Over the years, Simo has been consistent in involving publishers on new products and features Facebook is working on, something which has engendered a favorable sentiment among executives who have worked with her.
“She has always been accessible and forthcoming with us,” said an executive at another prominent publisher.
Simo, in some ways, also reflects Facebook’s ethos of moving fast (and breaking things). In an interview published on venture firm First Round Capital’s website, Simo spoke about how part of her management philosophy is being unafraid to move quickly and shift resources. When she saw that Facebook Live was gathering traction among users in its early days, Simo expanded the Facebook Live engineering team from 10 to 100 people in the course of a week.
“The only way to have this type of flexibility is to build a culture that makes change totally expected and acceptable,” Simo said in the interview.
While that level of flexibility can be great for Facebook and its ability to innovate, there are downsides for publishers that exist in Facebook’s orbit. Take, for instance, Facebook Watch. What was originally envisioned as a platform for professionally-produced, premium programming has constantly been pivoting as Facebook tries to get its users to actually use the product. According to a former Facebook product executive, this has created an environment where Facebook teams in charge of working with publishers had to frequently go to those publishers about a shift in strategies and priorities. “You end up not giving people enough time to adapt to changes,” according to this source.
Simo has shown that she’s committed to Zuckerberg’s vision for Facebook. That vision has changed considerably in the past year, with Facebook now focused on building a future platform that prioritizes private communications and an integration across its suite of services.
Zuckerberg has also said that Facebook is still committed to video. What’s unclear is the role that video and advertising will play when Facebook is focused on user privacy. It’s entirely possible that Facebook’s news feed remains largely unaffected, as Zuckerberg has indicated that he wants to maintain the news feed that he refers to as “the town square.”
And with Simo running the Facebook app, it’s not difficult to imagine that video — which has been under her purview — will remain a priority for the company.
But some industry sources are not holding their breath.
“[Facebook] is laser-focused on their business and their product — and it now has this new direction set forth by Zuckerberg,” said a publishing executive who has interacted frequently with Simo over the years. “As far as [media] partners make sense along the way, we’ll be part of their consideration set. But I don’t know how much any conversation at the executive level at Facebook is focused on publishers.”