By Adam Fraser
Another month another game changing Facebook announcement.
Only last month Facebook launched its new Topic Data product. Described by Facebook as showing “marketers what audiences are saying on Facebook about events, brands, subjects and activities” this in essence moved Facebook directly into the big data analytics business. In doing so Facebook locked down significant levels of data that had previously been accessible by third party listening tools. A blog post for another day.
This month’s significant announcement came when Facebook launched Instant Articles. Described by Facebook as “a new product for publishers to create fast, interactive articles on Facebook” this allows (requires) publishers to distribute their content directly on Facebook rather than linking from Facebook to the content housed on their own properties. If that nuance seems unimportant it’s not. In the digital world, this places the IP inside Facebook’s home patch not on the media company’s land. Nine major publishers have signed up included the New York Times, National Geographic, the Guardian and NBC News. This is big news.
Sound familiar? Yes, recently Snapchat created a new “Discovery” platform to 11 major media companies to distribute their own short form video content.
Major media companies hosting their content on rented land.
The Snapchat deal, while important, was less significant in that the type of video distributed was new and arguably expanding the content breadth of the participating publishers. The Facebook deal – while adding some digital functionality (such as zooming into images etc) to the underlying content – is more significant as this places the publishers’ primary, core journalistic IP inside the Facebook walled garden.
Whilst in the short term this may seem like a great deal for publishers – as they will further monetise their existing content to (much) larger audiences – this is a strategically significant long term move.
The golden rule is often quoted as “he who controls the gold makes the rules”. The media equivalent may be “he who controls the audience makes the rules”. Once the content lives on Facebook, it is Facebook (not the NY Times or Guardian or National Geographic) who controls the situation. And makes the rules. What type of content is promoted, who it is promoted to, how the revenue from advertising is shared. The up front financial agreement does seem attractive to publishers but we all know about Facebook’s ability to change the rules for its own benefit when it sees fit. Think fan pages, organic reach and the changes that followed.
This deal has a number of implications and potential consequences but at a minimum it confirms a couple of things we probably already knew:
- Traditional publishers are in a world of pain and desperately seeking new commercial models to survive as their core audiences fragment and decline
- The eyes and ears of the consumer are now predominantly on social not traditional media (in particular Facebook with its 1.4bn users – bringing it enormous negotiating power with anyone who wants access to its infrastructure).
Likely to be a good financial move in the short term for the publishers (as they will increase near term earnings) and an incredibly dangerous one in the long term (as they potentially lose direct control of their core audience base), this content agreement is a real marker of how significantly the power base has shifted in the media world. It will be fascinating to see how this world pans out and what this means for the future of journalism as we currently know it.