Filtrate 13/2015 – Facebook and the Publishers

Facebook wants to host original content by publishers like the NY Times and Buzzfeed. We’ve been following the story the whole week and have collected the most interesting tidbits and insights.

Filtrate is a blogging format inspired by Matt Webb and Michael Sippey: “Start a new draft post on Monday, dump things in it over the week, rewrite and cull along the way, what’s left gets published on Friday.”

1.

It has been on the horizon since last autumn and this week, the NY Times officially anounced it: Facebook May Host News Sites’ Content

In recent months, Facebook has been quietly holding talks with at least half a dozen media companies about hosting their content inside Facebook rather than making users tap a link to go to an external site.

The official reason for Facebook to do this: speed and user experience:

Facebook has said publicly that it wants to make the experience of consuming content online more seamless. News articles on Facebook are currently linked to the publisher’s own website, and open in a web browser, typically taking about eight seconds to load. Facebook thinks that this is too much time, especially on a mobile device, and that when it comes to catching the roving eyeballs of readers, milliseconds matter.

Yeah, right…

2.

Joshua Benton from Niemanlab about Facebook’s true motivation:

Facebook controls a huge share of the traffic publishers get — 40 percent or more in many cases. Combine that with the appification of people’s online life — the retreat from the open web toward a few social-media icons on your phone’s home screen — and you start to get at the motivations here. Facebook has fallen into the role of audience gatekeeper for many publishers, and it’s offering (!) to optimize that relationship.

And the current publishers dilema:

The game for traditional publishers now is all about short-term/long-term tradeoffs. Of course, in the long run, you want to control the customer and advertiser relationships. But today, in 2015, Facebook controls a large share of your audience and has user data you have no hope of matching.

3.

John Battelle gets much more criticial and poses a couple of questions that publishers should ask themselves before hosting their content on Facebook.

  • Do you have full and unfettered access to reader data? Will Facebook have access to your customer data?
  • Do you have full and unfettered control over your advertising relationships and data? Will Facebook have access to that data?
  • Do you have certainty over the levers of circulation marketing, including the price of reader acquisition and engagement?
  • Do you have control over your core product, so you can craft your reader’s experience as an expression of your brand?
  • Do you have any proof that publishers using another company’s proprietary platform have ever created a lasting and sustainable business? He sums up his perspective like this: I can’t really think of any publisher who thrived on someone else’s platform, for the reasons I laid out above. Sure, a lot of apps have done well, but in the main they were either hit businesses (gaming) or free services that kept their customer and revenue models well away from Apple or Google’s grasp (everybody else ever).

4.

But Battelle also see some differences between publishers like the NY Times and companies like Buzzfeed.

Which brings us to BuzzFeed, which has taken a delightfully inverse approach to platform economics — that is to say, it embraces the distribution of its content independent of its home base. Of course, it can do so because its core revenue model is native advertising content, which is distributed in the same fashion as original editorial content. This model suits BuzzFeed very, very well.

So for Buzzfeed this deal with Facebook makes a lot of sense because their business model is in the content and the audience it reaches as Felix Salmon describes:

BuzzFeed has built its business model around its ability to ensure that any piece of content, whether it’s a cat listicle or an ad or a news story, reaches as much of its intended target audience as possible.

Which means that Buzzfeed – unlike the NY Times – isn’t dependent on its brand and that lets them benefit much more from deals that will get them bigger audiences for the price of less brand perception.

5.

This is the appropriate time to dig up the great essay The Next Internet Is TV by John Herman on The Awl from the beginning of February.

The prospect of Facebook, for example, as a primary host for news organizations, not just an outsized source of traffic, is depressing even if you like Facebook. A new generation of artists and creative people ceding the still-fresh dream of direct compensation and independence to mediated advertising arrangements with accidentally enormous middlemen apps that have no special interest in publishing beyond value extraction through advertising is the early internet utopian’s worst-case scenario.

His hypothesis: Publisher on the web will end up where TV producers have been for a long time: filling up channels with content.

And so one more obvious theoretical question for this particular view of the future that seems to be quite popular right now, in which we have circled back to TV via the internet or apps or social media or even TV itself: Wasn’t the internet supposed to be BETTER, somehow, in all its broken decentralized chaos and glory? The TV industry, which is mediated at every possible point, is a brutal interface for culture and commerce.

6.

John Herman chimend in again this week with a more specific take on Facebook hosting publisher’s content..

Their presence in News Feed will seem slightly easier and more natural than the presence of their competitors, whose manipulative headlines—which have been carefully optimized to convince you to leave Facebook to go to another site—will read an awful lot like spam.

Could one side-effect of this move by Facebook be that we will see the end of headlines like “You won’t believe what happened next,” finally?

There is a helpful symmetry here, if you’ll grant it. Online publishers, with more readers than ever, are looking desperately for the next thing; Facebook, with more people using its core product than ever, is doing the same. The difference, of course, is that publishers’ next thing already belongs to someone else. Their future belongs to Facebook’s past.

It’s a bit ironic that publishers desperately want to be part of Facebook’s newsfeed while Facebook is looking intensively for the next big thing after the newsfeed.

7.

Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic reminds us that Facebook had encouraged publishers before to heavily invest in a FB technology.

Facebook selects a couple news organizations and asks them to invest heavily in a native tool that gives news stories—news stories!—an unprecedentedly high-ranking in users’ feed. They do, and for a few months, they see increased traffic in the millions. And then, one day, Facebook’s engineering team realizes that this new tool is cutting engagement and winds it down.

The whole endavour was known as the “social reader” back then and for a short time, it brought early adopters like the Washington Post a couple of million more impressions. Until Facebook decided that users didn’t like the feautre and suddenly turned it off one morning and with it all that traffic.

8.

Wednesday night, Facebook introduced a couple of new things at their developer conference F8. The stuff around the Messenger are less relevant for publishers than the advertising-related anouncements. Digiday summed it up like this:

Facebook is gradually positioning itself to become the data, media-consumption and sharing backbone for the entire digital media industry.

9.

As part of Wednesday’s update, Facebook is also expanding LiveRail’s ad management capabilities to mobile display advertising, meaning publishers can use the technology to sell both video and display ads on their mobile apps.

…writes re/code. LiveRail is the ad server that Facebook is running.

What’s significant in this announcement is that LiveRail will now use its anonymized user data to help publishers serve better targeted advertising on platforms that aren’t Facebook. So instead of relying on things like Internet cookies to help publishers target a Web visitor, publishers using LiveRail will be able to add Facebook’s user data into the mix to get a better idea of who’s watching the ad.

This is huge. And Google should be very afraid. Facebook is really starting to eat into their core business.

LiveRail and its ingestion of Facebook data “makes Facebook an important operating system of the digital ecosystem, certainly being able to rival Google and its DoubleClick infrastructure,” said Dave Morgan, CEO of Simulmedia, a targeted television advertising company. “This puts their lead in some areas under pressure. Certainly in the digital video area, Google should be worried.”

But it also means that Facebook is not focussed on what’s happning on their own platform. They also want to make their data useable to advertisers on other platforms, outside the Facebook ecosystem, sorry, “family of apps.”

The move speaks to Facebook’s desire to be a major advertising partner for publishers, brands and agencies outside its own properties.

That balance might actually make some more publishers consider their offering to host content.

10.

11.

Alexis Lloyd and Matt Boggie from the NY Times R&D Lab gave a great talk at FutureEverything that summed up a lot of the current trends in (digital) publishing.