Publishers brace for what happens if Facebook stops paying for live videos

Publishers that get paid by Facebook to produce live videos know the glory days might not last forever.

Last spring, Facebook signed up nearly 140 media companies and celebrities to produce a regular stream of Facebook Live content. BuzzFeed and Tastemade, for instance, are getting paid $3.1 million and $1 million to produce Facebook Live videos for a 12-month period ending in March 2017, according to The Wall Street Journal.

While deal sizes vary, Facebook Live publishers have agreed to a minimum number of live videos and minutes streamed per month. Tastemade, for instance, is doing a minimum of 2,200 minutes per month. Others are doing as many as 3,000 minutes per month. It’s a big reason why The New York Times has a seven-person Facebook Live team and Tastemade is doing 100 live videos per month on Facebook.

For Facebook, this approach ensures that it gets a steady stream of live video on its platform every month — and as a result, people sticking around longer on Facebook to watch those videos. By the end of the 12-month period, Facebook will be sitting on a mountain of data, which it can then use to make adjustments based on what’s working and what’s not working. What’s not clear is whether Facebook will continue paying media partners to do live content.

“I don’t expect them to continue with the pay model,” said Micah Gelman, director of editorial video at The Washington Post. “They say they’re working hard on a monetization model [for publishers], but I don’t know if that’s going to be as successful for us as being paid directly by them.”

By now, publishers have been groomed by platforms to expect the unexpected. Snapchat can one day decide it does not want to share revenue with Discover publishers, or Facebook can decide that it wants to prioritize posts shared by friends rather than public accounts. In the same way, Facebook can one day choose to stop caring about Facebook Live or to pay fewer partners once it has analyzed the data. That could spell trouble for companies that have built dedicated Facebook Live teams.

“If you’re a publisher that’s trying to stay relevant, you might not know if Facebook Live is going to be big or not, or if Instagram Stories is going to be big or not, but what you know is you sure as hell better staff appropriately,” said Oren Katzeff, head of programming at Tastemade. “Because if it’s big and you aren’t a part of it, you’ve failed; if it isn’t big and you went for it, well, at least you went for it. It’s a little bit like coaching for the moment and worrying about the repercussions later.”

Still, expect Facebook’s live video partners to get louder about what comes next as the contracts come to an end.

“A lot of the companies that built entire teams [for Facebook Live] are going to put some pressure on Facebook: ‘Hey, we hired a team to do this, we need some advance notice,’” said Jigar Mehta, vp of digital operations for Fusion.

Even if Facebook doesn’t entirely fund its production program for live video, most media partners expect the company to scale it down. What many still remain hopeful for is a dual-revenue model, where Facebook provides some funding for content while the publisher also generates ad revenue — just like how TV networks make money.

“At the end, we’ll make a decision based on what Facebook does,” said Gelman. “We don’t expect to stop doing it, but we’re going to adjust to the right size to fit what we do and what makes sense economically.”

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