Facebook's $10m content slush fund - early publisher signals mixed on audience success
Facebook "hasn't shot out the lights," on audiences for a weekly news wrap it paid Network Seven to develop, says chief revenue officer Kurt Burnette. But Junkee Media CEO Neil Ackland is more effusive.
The initial deal
In a strangely serendipitous piece of timing, Facebook last year commissioned a round of content funding for local media companies just as the ACCC was set to hand down its preliminary report on its Digital Platforms Inquiry. Mi3 understands Facebook's funding round was circa $10m.
In August, Facebook announced it had struck paid content deals with Seven, Nine, Ten, Sky News and SBS, along with digital-only publishers Pedestrian.TV and Junkee.
As part of their agreements with Facebook, publishers produced daily and weekly exclusive video content segments. Most have been created by the broadcasters TV newsrooms, while the likes of Junkee created its own bespoke line-up
Both Seven and Junkee have been two of the more successful publishers in attracting audiences on the social platform.
Seven Chief Revenue Officer Kurt Burnette told Mi3 that while the news programming hasn't set pulses racing in terms of viewer numbers, it has been an important branding opportunity for the network.
"What that is doing from a brand perspective is getting Seven News out to not just a different audience, but presenting it in another format altogether," Burnette says.
"Everyone has been happy with its performance. It’s not shot the lights out on anything but that wasn’t our overall expectation. What it has done is created a new brand and revenue stream that appears in a repositioned format for an audience that may not have engaged with our news product prior."
Burnette says that despite the timing of the funding, Seven believes Facebook's interest in generating premium video from local news and content providers was a "genuine approach" to integrate a new form of TV content on a social platform.
He says that while it widens the audience net for Seven, it also adds a "level of credibility" to Facebook around its news and current affairs offering, something the platform has struggled with in recent years following the emergence and widespread growth of "fake news".
Junkee hits the jackpot
Junkee Media CEO Neil Ackland is a supporter of Facebook's initiative. Junkee's daily news bulletins have been one of the major success stories.
It took three months, but Ackland and the team have seen viewership skyrocket, with some episodes cracking the two million viewer mark on Watch and a further 500,000 through Instagram TV (IGTV).
"The big learning for us is that it does take time and publishers our size wouldn’t have the wherewithal to fund experiments like this without Facebook's backing, as we really had to spend those first three months training our users to understand the new content, its location and structure," Ackland says.
"One of the hypotheses we were trying to test was whether we can get people to stay longer and commit to viewing longer-form content on the platform. It’s proven out really well. The average viewer time for the show is now about a minute. When you take into account the average view length of our videos being three to four minutes long, we consider that a success."
While Junkee is pumped, other publishers are less enamoured.
Nine has been vocal on its stance about being properly paid for content by Facebook and Google. CEO Hugh Marks and sales boss Michael Stephenson last year urged agencies to pull spend out of Facebook and YouTube and invest it back into broadcast video on demand (BVOD), claiming more than $700 million in TV spend has been "stolen" and invested into the duopoly.
Part of Nine's counter was to move to a "cost per completed view" approach on 9Now for its long and short-form video content, meaning clients will only pay for views that have a 100% completion rate.
Lizzie Young, Nine's MD for commercial partnerships warned Mi3 readers last year that if Facebook launched another news product and paid for content from news organisations, three years on it would be so "habit forming for the consumer that they will no longer access news outside Facebook".
"It seems unlikely the license fee paid will be enough to cover the falling revenues news organisations will face unless Facebook engages constructively to build a new sustainable model," she wrote.
"Thankfully the ACCC is also proposing a code that will hopefully support this. Without that, it’s almost guaranteed that some local news outlets would not survive forever compromising the availability of insightful and necessary public discourse."
Seven's second stab
Outside of its news product, Seven doubled down on its partnership with Facebook, agreeing to create four 8-episode series. The shows primarily leant on social media influencers as the basis for the show, including the likes of Jordan Watson (How to Dad) and Elise Strachan (My Cupcake Addiction), as well as TV personality Joel Creasey.
These four shows were How to Dad: Bootcamp, Farmhouse Flip, Date Keeper and Unboxing.
How to Dad was the best performing show of the four, averaging an audience of 213,000 views across the series. However, the average view time is not available publicly.
Below is a break down of the four series by average audience and highest viewed episode.
|Average audience||Highest viewed episode|
|How to Dad: Bootcamp||213,000||435,000|
Will it continue?
Naturally, Junkee's Ackland hopes Facebook will keep the funding going, although similar content funding initiatives with US publishers have been short-lived. He thinks it will be survival of the fittest, or at least, the most fitting faces.
"I would hope they would continue to fund it in some capacity, as we think it is adding value to the platform," he says. "There are varying degrees of success [...but...] I think it’ll be a bit like piloting for networks: Facebook will look to fund the ones that have had the most success."
Burnette echoed Ackland in hoping Facebook will keep the money coming. There is mutual benefit for both sides, he suggests.
"We produce for the likes of Netflix and Amazon, so I see no reason why that can’t continue for the social players as well. As long as there is a demand, we will be happy to supply."
While Facebook says the original plan was to fund only a short-term experiment, it has not closed the door altogether on a longer run. And it's worth noting the ACCC has just launched another long-term inquiry into platforms and the media supply chain.
Facebook head of news partnerships, Andrew Hunter, told Mi3: “Our goal was to experiment with news video on our platform, trial new formats and bring relevant and timely news video to Facebook. Since these deals started, more people are watching high-quality news video on Facebook than ever before and they are watching for longer.
"Partners are experimenting with new formats and stories. We’re seeing success with split-screen and vertical video, and coverage of the big stories that matter to news audiences across Australia, including the recent bushfires. After only six months into the partnerships we are pleased with the progress.”