Facebook Showcase Gives Media Buyers an Upfront for Premium Content

Nearly 100 million a month watch its In-Stream Reserve-eligible fare in the U.S.

Facebook head of U.S. agency sales Erik Geisler introduces Showcase. Facebook

Facebook is throwing its hat in the upfront ring, not with a big, glitzy presentation of premium content but with what it’s calling Facebook Showcase.

Erik Geisler, the social network’s head of U.S. agency sales, said at a press event that Showcase transforms ad buying from a quarter-by-quarter opportunity to a way to purchase an entire season in advance.

It’s a new way of doing things for Facebook, but it jibes with common practice for broadcast and cable television networks. The social network is setting aside inventory for the entire broadcast year on a fixed-cost basis to be offered during the upfront sales cycle, with unsold inventory heading to the scatter market.

Unlike what Twitter did during the Digital Content NewFronts, Facebook is not hosting any events for Showcase. Director of media monetization Kate Orseth said it would be fair to compare Showcase to Google Preferred.

Perhaps what matters most for Facebook’s ad business is that buyers are on board. Periscope associate media director Caitlin Kennedy is in favor of Showcase.

“Offering deals with an upfront-like approach is smart on Facebook’s behalf because so many of the biggest brands’ planning cycles are aligned to making that annual upfront commitment,” Kennedy said. “And as more brands get used to the concept of video and not just TV, it’s the perfect time to introduce a new channel for consideration, so long as they’re trying to reach that younger, aloof cord cutter.”

Geisler said Showcase gives media buyers access to premium, brand-safe content, while Orseth said inventory can now be bought with price certainty and predictability via a rate card and Nielsen-verified in-target audiences.

Options available to advertisers include Nielsen Total Ad Ratings, Digital Ad Ratings and brand lift offerings from Facebook or Nielsen.

Universal McCann Worldwide chief investment officer Jon Stimmel said it has not been a secret that linear television has been declining and that while audiences have shifted to other platforms, including Facebook, the challenge with those platforms is to deliver scale and match the other advantages TV can provide.

Stimmel said Showcase enables upfront deals with flexibility built in to drive value and protect against changes down the road.

“Social media is a living being,” he said. “It moves. It adjusts. It finds things that it likes and doesn’t like.”

Facebook Watch’s In-Stream Reserve premium content is made up of video from curated high-quality publishers, creators, celebrities and athletes. Facebook said nearly 100 million people in the U.S. watch In-Stream Reserve-eligible content each month across Facebook Watch, the news feed and pages.

The social network said 43 percent of people in the U.S. who watched In-Stream Reserve-eligible content over the past three months were between the ages of 18 and 34, compared with 28 percent of TV viewers during that same period.

Geisler stressed brand safety, saying every program and episode is reviewed by humans before it becomes eligible for monetization.

UM was one of the early testers of In-Stream Reserve. Stimmel said, “Premium content created by publishers, athletes and celebrities we know is somewhat dramatic to be able to bring to our clients. We’re talking about an upfront. We want that transition to content that is high-quality, celebrity-driven and recognizable.”

In-Stream Reserve categories were already available to advertisers, enabling them to select content packages in specific categories such as sports, fashion and beauty, and entertainment. The social network added food and news Tuesday, saying inventory bought this way is also purchased in advance, at a fixed cost.

Brands also have the option of becoming exclusive sponsors of programs for U.S. viewers, letting them place their ads on specific shows like the Facebook Watch version of MTV’s The Real World, which was unveiled at Mipcom 2018 last October by MTV Studios and Bunim/Murray Productions as well as shows with similar themes.

david.cohen@adweek.com David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.