Is Facebook’s News Shows on Watch an Olive Branch to Publishers?

The social network is picking up the entire tab, but media outlets will retain editorial control

Several Facebook-funded news shows for Facebook Watch will debut this summer. Facebook Watch
Headshot of David Cohen

After Facebook head of news products Alex Hardiman announced last week that the social network is funding an initiative to create news shows from 10 to 12 U.S. publishers for its Facebook Watch video platform, the social platform revealed details today about the first batch of series.

Neither Facebook nor any of the media companies behind the shows announced Wednesday would provide any further details on funding or advertising arrangements, but a source close to one of the publishers said the social network is fully funding the shows, and that it reached out to the publishers involved and basically said, “Come up with an idea and send us a budget.”

The source added that conversations on advertising are still ongoing, but ad revenue will likely be handled the same way it is for other shows on Facebook Watch, with the social network deciding whether to insert ads into shows, sending a percentage of revenues going to the publishers.

When Hardiman announced the Facebook Watch initiative last week in conjunction with the sunsetting of its Trending feature, she framed it as a way “to help people stay informed about timely, breaking news that matters to them, while making sure that the news they see on Facebook is from trustworthy and quality sources.” But is it also meant as an olive branch to publishers after previous arrangements didn’t work out so well?

Prior to the launch of the Facebook Watch platform, it was widely reported last April that the social network was paying publishers for premium video content while de-emphasizing Facebook Live videos, but those deals were allowed to lapse as 2017 came to a close, in favor of Facebook Watch.

On the non-video side, Facebook introduced Instant Articles in 2015 as a way for publishers to share quick-loading media-rich content, but little has been said about the format since the social network added a monetization tab to Facebook Audience Network last November, giving publishers more control over ways to profit from their content.

And of course, publishers have also dealt with Facebook’s continued assault on their organic reach.

Head of global news partnerships Campbell Brown said in a blog post introducing the new shows, “With this effort, we are testing a destination for high-quality and timely news content on the platform. … We will work closely with our publisher partners to experiment with these different formats to understand what works, and they will have full editorial control of their shows.”

Brown added that more shows will be announced “in the coming weeks.” David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.