After going through the fake-news wringer, Facebook is shelling out money on original news content. The strategy is partly aimed at driving up viewing on its Facebook Watch platform — but it also is supposed to demonstrate the social-media giant’s commitment to funding trustworthy journalism.
The initial shows, fully funded by Facebook, come from seven partners: TV news orgs ABC News, CNN, Fox News Channel, and Univision; local news publisher Advance Local; and digital media companies ATTN: and Mic. They’re slated to roll out on Facebook Watch this summer. The mix includes live breaking news, daily news briefings, and weekly, longer-form series.
The initiative is led by Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of global news partnerships, a former CNN host and NBC News reporter who joined the company in January 2017. “They’re not just cutting up TV and putting it on Facebook,” Brown said. “This is to engage people around news, taking advantage of Facebook’s features.”
Facebook has committed to funding some of the news programs for at least one year (a rep says the deal terms vary in length), but the parties aren’t disclosing what the company is paying for them. The shows will be available in an exclusive window on Facebook Watch. An exec at one partner said the company was quick to approve to their budget request for one of the shows. “They are willing to pay more to work with partners they trust,” said the exec, who requested anonymity because terms of the deals with Facebook are private.
Over the years, Facebook’s relationship with publishers has been prickly, including recent frustration with its changes to News Feed to deprioritize content from media partners in favor of users’ friends posts. Rupert Murdoch earlier this year complained about the company’s approach to news specifically, saying Facebook should pay content providers in the way cable TV companies pay networks.
“It was important to us that there was a fair value exchange, which there hasn’t always been,” said Andrew Morse, CNN’s EVP and GM of CNN Digital Worldwide.
CNN’s original program for Facebook Watch, “Anderson Cooper Full Circle,” will go live weekday evenings at 6:25 p.m. ET. Broadcast from the “AC360” newsroom in New York, the program will feature the CNN host delivering a daily news dispatch, and engaging Facebook users directly through live polls and integrated conversations. The plans also call for Cooper to interview newsmakers live on the show.
Morse declined to discuss CNN’s financial arrangement for the show, but he said, “Facebook has made a serious commitment, and they have made a significant minimum guarantee. For us to produce a program with Anderson Cooper every day brings tremendous value to their platform.”
Also bullish on Facebook’s new push is Jason Ehrich, Fox News’ senior VP of audience development and partnerships. The news channel is launching “Fox News Update,” a twice-daily news report that Ehrich said will be fast-paced, with each segment running 3-5 minutes. “This feels like the natural evolution” of FNC’s partnership with the company. “They seem very committed to making Watch a success.”
The Facebook-funded news announcement also comes after it has been accused failing to do enough to stop the spread of “fake news” — particularly during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, when Russian-linked disinformation campaigns used Facebook to target American voters. This week, Facebook is in the process of shutting off the Trending news topics section that has appeared in the News Feed. The company said the Trending feature had low usage, but it also drew criticism of political bias.
“We’ve talked a lot over the last six months over the quality of news on Facebook,” Brown said. “This is another investment in quality journalism on Facebook.”
Brown characterized the news programming for Facebook Watch as an “experiment”: “They don’t know if it’s going to work, we don’t if it’s going to work. We’re going to find out together.” She emphasized the news organizations will have “full editorial control” over the content.
In picking the first seven partners, Brown said the goal was to get a diverse set of viewpoints and a range of formats. “Given this is our first step into this, we wanted to have a diverse slate of shows that could deliver different things,” she said. Brown expects Facebook eventually to fund more than a dozen news shows.
For now, the Facebook-funded news initiative is focused on U.S.-based news outlets. That’s driven by the fact that Facebook Watch is currently available only in the U.S., stocked with hundreds of scripted and unscripted shows (some paid for by the company).
There will be ad breaks in some of the news programming on Facebook Watch. “Over the long term, we’d love to get these shows to self-sustainable levels,” said Brown.
In the past, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has remarked that Facebook is a technology company — not a media company. Asked whether Facebook is now in fact a media company, given that it’s paying for a growing slate of content, Brown responded, “Having worked for big media companies, I don’t think Facebook is a media company. But are we responsible for the media on Facebook? Yes.”
Here’s an overview of the initial funded news shows for Facebook Watch:
- ABC News “On Location” (working title): Daily news show with reports from correspondents worldwide and top headlines. ABC News live news streams also will be featured in a breaking-news area of the Facebook Watch news section.
- Advance Local “Chasing Corruption”: Weekly series from Alabama Media Group, hosted by Ian Hoppe and AL.com’s Reckon team, who speak with investigative journalists who have uncovered stories of conspiracy, bribery, fraud and other crimes.
- ATTN: “Undivided ATTN:”: Weekly explainer breaking big topics in 3-5 minute episodes hosted by a rotating cast of social influencers.
- CNN’s “Anderson Cooper Full Circle”: Daily briefing on weekdays featuring Anderson Cooper and a roster of guests.
- Fox News “Fox News Update”: FNC chief news anchor Shepard Smith will host each weekday afternoon and Carley Shimkus will present the morning segment, while Abby Huntsman will deliver the headlines once each morning over the weekend.
- Mic “Mic Dispatch”: Twice-weekly show will profile “the underrepresented, the problem-solvers and the provocateurs.” Each episode will include two field-reported dispatches of 5-6 minutes each.
- Univision “Real America with Jorge Ramos”: In the weekly show, the anchor will travel across the U.S. to speak with immigrants of diverse backgrounds, targeted not only at Latinos but mainstream English-speaking audiences. Univision will also broadcast “Noticiero Univision Edición Digital,” an interactive Spanish-language news broadcast at noon ET daily on Watch.
In other news-related features, Facebook is testing a “breaking news” label with 80 publishers across North America, South America, Europe, India and Australia along with breaking-news notifications. It also has a beta version of a dedicated section on Facebook called “Today In” to provide news from local publishers and updates from local officials and organizations.
Pictured above: CNN host Anderson Cooper