Facebook’s New Video Deals Show How Desperately it Wants to be YouTube

Facebook may be the world’s largest social-media platform, but there is one significant place where it still falls short, and that is video. YouTube still holds the record in that category, with more than 1 billion hours of video watched every day — 10 times what Facebook generates.

The giant social network didn’t get where it is by settling for second place in any market, however, and that has meant an unprecedented push by CEO Mark Zuckerberg into video in all forms.

The strategy began with a focus on streaming via Facebook Live, which launched in **, a feature that was aimed originally at celebrities and then expanded to include paying for live-streamed content from traditional media entities like the New York Times.

More recently, Facebook has moved aggressively into buying, commissioning and licensing longer-form, more TV-style content.

There have been reports for some time that Ricky Van Veen — the CollegeHumor co-founder Facebook hired last year — was looking to sign deals with a wide range of media companies, TV networks and individual artists for anything video related.

On Wednesday, some details of those arrangements finally came to light, when Reuters reported that the company has committed to distribute both short-form and longer-form video programming from a number of players — including BuzzFeed, Vox Media, ATTN and Group Nine Media, a New York-based outfit that owns short-form video producer NowThis.

Just as it did with its live-streaming efforts, Facebook has shown it is willing to pay up for the video it is getting from its various partners.

According to Reuters’ sources, the company is going to pay between $10,000 and $35,000 for videos that run 5 to 10 minutes long, and as much as $250,000 for any video that is 20 to 30 minutes long. The latter will be owned by Facebook, according to the wire-service report, while the creators of shorter clips will keep all the associated ownership rights.

Judging by the description, the shorter videos Facebook has in mind will be very much like the content that providers like ATTN, NowThis and BuzzFeed — with its popular Tasty cooking clips — already create for the social network.

The longer videos are a different beast, however, and they mark a distinct change in Facebook’s strategy. Instead of just being ad hoc clips of something newsworthy or funny designed to get clicks, the social network appears to have its sights set on what are called “scripted” shows, which is much more like what YouTube and others do.

YouTube has always carried episodic shows and scripted content, but it made a significant push into this as a business with the launch of a subscription service called YouTube Red last year.

As part of that roll-out, the Google subsidiary signed deals with a number of creators, some of whom got their start on the platform — including controversial game reviewer PewDiePie — as well as more mainstream sources such as ** and **.

Since then, the field of TV-style digital video has gotten even more crowded. Snap, which has been trying to justify its $20-billion market cap ever since it went public in March, has also been signing up a variety of players to create shows for its video messaging app. Partners in that effort include late-night TV host James Corden and NBCUniversal.

Mark Zuckerberg has said that he sees longer-form, scripted content as an “anchor” for a new video tab on the site, and that this will be a destination for those looking for video to watch. In other words, exactly the same position that YouTube currently occupies for many younger users of the web.

As with Snapchat, however, the multi-billion-dollar unanswered question is: Do people really want to watch longer-form, TV-style content on Facebook?

In much the same way that Snap is (and Twitter as well), Facebook seems to be moving towards video not because users want it, but because video is the place where it can get the most money from advertisers. Engagement levels are higher with video, meaning people tend to spend more time with them, and therefore they are seen as being more valuable.

As the traditional TV universe continues to fragment and disintegrate due to cord-cutting and other forces, Facebook and others like Snap see the potential shift of billions of dollars in TV ads, and they very much want to be the place where that money lands.

Among the hurdles that remain are a) coming up with content worth watching, and b) proving to advertisers that social views are as valuable as TV views. For the purposes of advertising, Facebook counts as a view anything that lasts longer than three seconds.

The comparison between social media and TV has been a bone of contention for some time in TV land, with a number of traditional networks arguing in their recent “Upfront” presentations to advertisers that television is worth more because it reaches real people. “**,” said NBC’s **.

In Facebook’s case, the issue is complicated by the fact that the social network has repeatedly had to admit errors in its audience-measurement analytics, including one mistake it admitted to last year, in which it over-estimated video views for more than two years.

Snapchat Tries to Reinvent TV For Mobile-Addicted Millennials

As Snap tries to outrun competitors like Instagram, which is busy copying every feature it has, the company behind the popular Snapchat messaging app is having to keep pushing the goalposts further down the field. Its latest big push is TV-style video.

Snap has been experimenting with short-form video “shows” for some time now, including some one-off projects related to Saturday Night Live as part of a deal with NBCUniversal, which recently invested $500 million in the company. But now it seems to making a major effort to roll out the strategy with a series of high-profile announcements.

Late-night talk show host James Corden is doing a show for the app that involves a talent search for the next great late-night host, and comedian Conan O’Brien is producing an animated comedy show. NBC, meanwhile, is slated to deliver a daily news show later this year.

Snap is also working on a multiple-show deal with the Discovery Network, one that will begin with a “Shark Week” short. According to a report in Variety, Snap wants to quadruple the number of shows it has from 5 to 20 by the end of the year.

The company says that its push further into TV-style content came as a result of seeing the success of its first such effort: A news show called Good Luck America that was introduced first during the election campaign, starring Snap’s head of editorial and former CNN reporter Peter Hamby.

Snap says the show got 5.2 million viewers per episode in its latest season, although it should be noted that a “viewer” on Snapchat isn’t the same as a viewer on television. Snap counts as a view anyone who clicked to start a video.

In a larger sense, Snap’s move into video is not surprising. Video, and particularly mobile video, is one of the few areas in the digital-ad market that is showing some strength, and almost every major technology and/or media company from Facebook to Amazon is going after it with guns blazing.

Facebook, for example, has made it clear that it wants to do deals with anyone who has short-form TV-style content, and it is willing to pay up in order to get the rights.

The motivation for Snap to be a part of this video land-rush is even more compelling than it is for Facebook or Amazon or YouTube. After an initial public offering in March that gave it a theoretical market value of $27 billion, Snap is facing a considerable amount of pressure to show that it can increase revenues, and quickly.

Snap CEO Evan Spiegel likes to boast about the amount of time users spend with the Snapchat app, but many analysts and investors seem concerned about things like the declining rate of user growth and the risk that advertising revenue may not match expectations. That’s what helped shave $6 billion off the company’s market cap following its recent earnings report.

One way to address this problem is to give advertisers and investors something they understand, which is TV-style content. But the big unanswered question is: Will Snapchat users take to this format? Or do they mostly just want to exchange personal messages with their friends?

In a way, all the things that have made Snapchat such a viral hit over the past couple of years are the same things that could make it difficult for it to succeed with a larger mass-media strategy.

The key appeal for many users in the early days was that Snapchat messages only went to a small group of friends, and they disappeared within 10 seconds. This made it perfect for intensely personal messages. And Snapchat played to this use case by not providing the usual social-status indicators like follower counts and view counts and so on.

As it has grown larger and felt the need to justify its eye-popping valuation, Snap has tried to build a much broader media strategy on top of this focus on personal messaging. It started with Discover, a feature that added “stories” from news entities like CNN and BuzzFeed.

Video is the next iteration of that strategy (Snapchat’s TV shows will have their own section within the Discover tab, Variety says). But will this effort prove that Snap can combine its millennial audience with the revenue-generating ability of video? Or will it take the company too far away from its roots?

As we’ve seen with Instagram’s relentless copy-cat approach over the past year, another big risk for Snap is that the Facebook-backed company — or even Facebook itself — will simply move in on its market even further and suck all of the oxygen out of the room when it comes to video.

Snap will undoubtedly point to its millennial reach and those much-talked-about engagement numbers as a way of arguing that it is more valuable. And that might work for some advertisers.

At the same time, however, Facebook’s 1.8 billion users are a powerful draw, and so are the massive amounts of money that the social networking giant has the ability to spend on TV-style content. And even if Facebook doesn’t prove to be the Snap-killer when it comes to video, there’s always Amazon and YouTube and likely Apple as well to contend with.

No one said being a $20-billion startup was going to be easy. Welcome to the jungle, Evan.

People Distrust the Media in General, but Trust the Media They Like

Studies have found that trust in the media is not only extremely low, but falling. A new report from the American Press Institute, however, suggests that the answer to surveys about trust and the media can change a lot depending on how the questions are phrased.

The study was done as part of the Media Insight Project, which is a collaborative effort between the API and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. It appears to show that public attitudes about the media are “more complex and nuanced than many traditional studies indicate,” according to a release from the Institute.

In particular, people’s answers changed depending on whether the question was about their perception of the media in general or the media that they used most often—which in most cases consisted of fairly mainstream media outlets.

So when people were asked whether the media in general were normally “very accurate,” only 17% said that they agreed with the statement. But when respondents were asked about the media sources that they rely on the most, twice as many—34%—said they believed they were very accurate.

In a similar way, only 22% of people said that the news media in general cares about the people it reports on. But more than 35% of those surveyed said that the outlets they rely on care.

Interestingly enough, the study showed that divisions between Republican voters and Democratic voters when it comes to trust in the media virtually disappear in some cases when the question refers to media sources that the user relies on most.

So while only 8% of Republicans said that the news media in general was “very accurate,” 40% of Republican voters said the media sources they use most were accurate, roughly the same as the number of Democrats who agreed with that statement.

Many recent studies have highlighted an ideological divide when it comes to trust in the media. A report from PR strategy firm Edelman called The Trust Barometer, for example, found that only 15% of Trump voters said they trusted the media to do what was right, compared with 51% of Clinton voters who agreed with the same statement.

According to the American Press Institute, the findings from its study suggest that the issue of trust in the media “is more complicated than some may think.”

In particular, the API says the research shows that the idea of Americans somehow retreating from news in general, or being separated into their ideological corners “oversimplifies what is occurring.” However, the Institute did note that trust in the media among those under 40 does appear to be declining, regardless of ideology.

Facebook Needs to be More Transparent When it Censors Speech

The more Facebook tries to move beyond its original role as a social network for sharing family photos and other ephemera, the more it finds itself in an ethical minefield, torn between its desire to improve the world and its need to curb certain kinds of speech.

The tension between these two forces has never been more obvious than it is now, thanks to two recent examples of when its impulses can go wrong, and the potential damage that can be caused as a result. The first involves a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist whose account was restricted, and the second relates to Facebook’s leaked moderation guidelines.

In the first case, investigative reporter Matthew Caruana Galizia had his Facebook account suspended recently after he posted documents related to a story about a politician in Malta.

Caruana Galizia was part of a team that worked with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists to break the story of the Panama Papers, a massive dump of documents that were leaked from an offshore law firm last year.

The politician, Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat, was implicated in a scandal as a result of those leaked documents, which referred to shell companies set up by him and two other senior politicians in his administration.

Facebook not only suspended Caruana Galizia’s account, it also removed a number of the documents that he had posted related to the story. It later restored his access to his account after The Guardian and a Maltese news outlet wrote about it, but some of the documents never reappeared.

The social network has rules that are designed to prevent people from posting personal information about other users, but it’s not clear whether that’s why the account was suspended.

Some of what Caruana Galizia posted contained screenshots of passports and other personal data, but many of these documents have remained available, while others have been removed. He is being sued by Muscat for libel, which has raised concerns about whether Facebook suspended the account because of pressure from officials in Malta.

A spokesman for Facebook told the Guardian that it was working with the reporter “so that he can publish what he needs to, without including unnecessary private details that could present safety risks. If we find that we have made errors, we will correct them.”

Caruana Galizia said the incident was enlightening “because I realised how crippling and punitive this block is for a journalist.” And they clearly reinforce the risks that journalists and media entities take when they decide to use the social network as a distribution outlet.

If nothing else, these and other similar incidents make it obvious that Facebook needs to do far more when it comes to being transparent about when and why it removes content, especially when that content is of a journalistic nature.

In an unrelated incident, the world got a glimpse into how the social network makes some of its content decisions thanks to a leaked collection of guidelines and manuals for the 4,500 or so moderators it employs, which was posted by the Guardian.

Outlined in the documents are rules about what kinds of statements are considered too offensive to allow, how much violence the site allows in videos — including Facebook Live, which has been the subject of significant controversy recently — and what to do with sexually suggestive imagery.

Much like Twitter, Facebook appears to be trying to find a line between getting rid of offensive behavior while still leaving room for freedom of expression.

In the process, however, it has raised questions about why the giant social network makes some of the choices it does. Statements about violence towards women, for example — such as “To snap a bitch’s neck, make sure to apply all your pressure to the middle of her throat” — are considered okay because they are not specific threats.

Facebook has already come under fire for some of its decisions around what to show on its live-streaming feature. There have already been several cases where people committed suicide and streamed it on Facebook Live, and in at least one case a man killed his child and then himself.

The guidelines say that while videos of violence and even death should be marked as disturbing, in many cases they do not have to be deleted because they can “help create awareness of issues such as mental illness,” and because Facebook doesn’t want to “censor or punish people in distress.”

As a private corporation, Facebook is entitled to make whatever rules it wants about the type of speech that is permitted on its platform, since the First Amendment only applies to the actions of governments. But when a single company plays such a huge role in the online behavior of more than a billion people, it’s worth asking questions about the impact its rules have.

If Facebook censors certain kinds of speech, then for tens of millions of people it effectively ceases to exist, or becomes significantly less obvious.

The risks of this kind of private control over speech are obvious when it comes to things like filter bubbles or the role that “fake news” plays in political movements. But there’s a deeper risk as well, which is that thanks to the inscrutability of Facebook’s algorithm, many people won’t know what they are missing when information is removed.

Facebook may not want to admit that it is a media entity, but the reality is that it plays a huge role in how billions of people see the world around them. And part of the responsibility that comes with that kind of role is being more transparent about why and how you make decisions about what information people shouldn’t be able to see.

Cannes vs Netflix Is the Latest Battle in an Ongoing War

Even an inexperienced movie director would have said the symbolism was too heavy-handed. When the screening of a Netflix-backed movie started on Thursday night at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, the aspect ratio was wrong, so large parts of the film couldn’t be seen.

The problem was quickly corrected, and the Festival said it was just a simple projection error. But that small mistake took on much greater significance because it involved Netflix.

Even before the glitch in the projection of the movie on Thursday became obvious, reports say there was a chorus of boos from the audience when the Netflix logo appeared on screen. That’s because many players in the traditional film industry see the streaming giant as an unwelcome interloper in their business, if not an outright threat.

The movie, a new film called Ojka from director Bong Joon-ho, sparked controversy even before Thursday night’s showing, when the head of the Cannes jury—Oscar-winning Spanish director Pedro Almodovar—said that he felt Netflix films shouldn’t be eligible for the festival’s Palme d’Or award unless they are screened in a traditional theater first.

Almodovar’s comments echoed the festival’s announcement earlier this month that starting next year, it won’t screen any movies that haven’t had a traditional French theatrical release first.

Netflix has said it is willing to consider a truce with the industry, in which its movies would have limited theatrical screenings, but the law in France requires that films be available in theaters for at least three years before they can be streamed online.

On his Facebook page, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings referred to the Cannes festival’s decision as “the establishment closing ranks against us.”


Actor Will Smith, who is also on the jury for the festival, jumped in to defend Netflix after the Spanish director’s remarks, noting that his teenaged and twenty-something children watch a lot of Netflix content but also go to see movies regularly in theaters.

Smith’s defense of the streaming company isn’t surprising, considering he has a new movie coming out soon called Bright that was backed by Netflix. But the brouhaha also reinforced the divide between the forces that control the traditional movie industry and the kind of generational change in content consumption that Netflix has tapped into.

Almodovar and others may believe that a movie hasn’t really been experienced until it is shown on a large screen in a traditional theater, but millions of Netflix fans and those who stream movies through alternative providers such as Amazon Prime Video would beg to differ.

Not only is Netflix moving in on the traditional industry’s turf by financing and releasing films like Bright and Okja, but the “binge watching” phenomenon that the company pioneered—in which people watch multiple episodes of TV-style shows back-to-back—could also be seen as a competitor for the attention that used to go to movies.

It’s not just the attention of audiences or artistic considerations that traditional movie companies are concerned about. Netflix has also been spending large sums of money (as has Amazon) to buy the rights to movies at events like the Sundance Film Festival, and that has very real implications for the industry.

As it has in the TV end of the entertainment business, Netflix has been making attractive offers that don’t suffer from the same kinds of constraints that many typical Hollywood deals do, such as arcane formulas for profit-sharing that often result in lower returns. And the more appealing Netflix becomes, the more threatened the industry feels.

Ojka director Bong said that Netflix gave him “great support. The budget of the film was considerable, and a budget of this size is rare for filmmakers. I loved working with Netflix, they gave me total freedom. It was a wonderful experience.”

The war between Hollywood and Netflix got its start in 2015, when the company released Beasts of No Nation, and said that it would screen the movie in traditional theaters at the same time as it was streamed to Netflix subscribers online.

This was a shot across the bow of the movie industry’s much-loved “release window” rules, which require that films must be available exclusively in theaters for 90 days before they can be streamed online or delivered digitally. When Netflix refused to budge, most of the major U.S. theater chains refused to show the movie.

Netflix CEO Hastings hasn’t helped matters by accusing Hollywood of being backward technologically and allergic to innovation. “How did distribution innovate in the movie business in the last 30 years? Well, the popcorn tastes better, but that’s about it,” he said during a Q&A with reporters earlier this month.

Amazon, meanwhile, which is a much smaller player than Netflix, has acceded to the industry’s demands and releases its movies in theaters first before streaming them online. As a result, it has gotten very little of the negative attention that its larger competitor gets.