Facebook will fund a dozen new Facebook Watch shows across Germany, France and Sweden, particularly in the news category.
Facebook is commissioning shows with publishers like Axel Springer, Burda, Gruner + Jahr, Brut, Le Monde, BFMTV and Expressen. Burda is creating three shows while Gruner + Jahr is producing four. The series are both daily and weekly. Other shows will include popular local news personalities and interactive elements like a live panel where Facebook audiences can seek advice. Facebook has been building more interactive elements around Watch, like Groups and Watch Party, after finding this encourages more user comments.
Facebook has had a fraught relationship with news publishers, a tension that’s particularly pronounced in European countries like Germany, which are wary of the dominance of U.S. tech platforms, including Facebook. But Facebook’s investment in news programming is a sign to some publishers that the relationship is improving.
“The relationship with Facebook has been changing over the years. At the beginning, we were addicted to publishing our content to get reach,” said one publishing exec and new Facebook Watch partner. “We were complaining to them, and they weren’t understanding. Now we are trying to understand each other.”
This most recent announcement is Facebook’s most significant European news investment. Last year Facebook began funding several news shows from U.K. broadcasters, including Channel 4 and the BBC, and it’s in conversations to continue funding these shows into a second year. In June, Facebook announced a sprinkling of other funded European partnerships across entertainment, news and sports.
European publishing execs like CEO of Axel Springer, Mathias Döpfner, have for years declared that Facebook and other platforms should remunerate them for displaying publisher content. Paying publishers to produce shows is one way of doing this. Although the size of the checks varies: In the U.S., Facebook has reportedly paid between $1 million and $10 million for shows, depending on regularity. According to one Facebook Watch European partner, speaking anonymously, Facebook is paying this publisher a seven-figure sum. Funded shows can be broadcast on a publisher’s owned and operated site at the same time it’s broadcast on Facebook and on other third-party platforms within three months, according to one publishing exec.
Shows can also be monetized through ad breaks. Although in Sweden, which has one Facebook-funded Watch partner, Expressen, ad-breaks aren’t served in Swedish-language videos.
But as with Facebook’s other subsidiary bets, such as Facebook Live, relying on the platform to fund shows for particular channels isn’t sustainable. This is fine as long as publishers aren’t overly reliant on any ad revenue they make from the shows. Facebook is also happy to pull the plug on news shows on Watch if they aren’t performing, acting in a similar way to a TV network willing to cut shows if ratings are bad. While Facebook has gone slow and steady with other releases, announcing a larger slate like this will attract more attention further down the line if shows aren’t renewed.
“For us, it’s about learning how content is perceived and building up a new revenue stream on the platform. Can we expand our business into other areas? That’s the main question,” said the publishing exec. “It’s a risk-sharing thing. I want a new business model, and they want content.”
Publishing sources in the U.K. remain skeptical about Facebook’s intentions and interest in growing publishers’ audience beyond the PR of having quality news on the platform to mitigate some of the fallout from allowing the spread of harmful content.
“There are two sides to it,” said the same publishing exec. “You could argue that they are doing it to help us, but we are also putting pressure on them in the public discussion. It’s still a product-centric company; however, it’s moving into the right direction. It’s starting to understand it needs not just product but customers and partners too.”
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