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Facebook Is Paying Millions to News Outlets and Celebrities to Create Live Video

Updated: Jun 21, 2016 10:11 PM UTC

It's been known for some time that Facebook is paying media companies and celebrities cash in return for using its Facebook Live video feature, but what hasn't been known is exactly how much it is paying them. According to a document recently obtained by the Wall Street Journal, the social networking giant has signed as many as 140 contracts worth a total of $50 million.

The list of media outlets being paid by Facebook includes traditional players such as CNN and the New York Times, the Journal says, as well as digital-only publishers like Vox, Mashable, and BuzzFeed. The celebrities who are being compensated for creating live video include comedian Kevin Hart and chef Gordon Ramsay.

Some contracts are worth smaller amounts, while 17 of the deals Facebook has signed are worth more than $1 million, according to the document obtained by the Journal. Two media outlets are getting paid more than $3 million to create live video—BuzzFeed and the New York Times, and CNN is not far behind, with a reported payment of $2.5 million.

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The first reports about Facebook (fb) paying media companies and/or celebrities to create live video emerged in March, when Recode reported that COO Sheryl Sandberg was in Hollywood talking with talent agencies and artists' representatives, and offering to get out her checkbook to get them using the platform. The live-streaming feature was launched first for celebrities in 2015, then rolled out to everyone.

In April, the executive in charge of Facebook Live, Fidji Simo (who we spoke with recently about the platform) told Recode that the company was also working with media partners, and said "in some of the cases that includes a financial incentive." (Time Inc., which owns Fortune, has a relationship with Facebook that relates to the creation of Facebook Live video).

Also in April, BuzzFeed confirmed—in a roundabout way—that it was one of the partners being paid by Facebook. A story about paying video creators quoted an anonymous source as saying that the social network was paying media partners "around $250,000 for 20 posts per month over a three-month period," and then mentioned parenthetically that BuzzFeed was one of them.

Although media companies have been pouring resources into creating live video, they don't tend to get the same kind of engagement as streams by celebrities do, according to a report from the site The Information. It said videos from celebrities or public figures accounted for more than 60% of the top 200 most-viewed live videos, while media companies made up just 15%.

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During the past year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has made it clear that video—and particularly live video—is the most important focus for the social network. At a Fortune conference earlier this month, Facebook vice-president Nicola Mendelsohn said that if she had to predict what the site would look like five years from now, "it would be video, video, video."

Facebook is in a neck-and-neck race with Snapchat when it comes to consumption of videos. The latter says its users watch more than 10 billion videos every day, which is more than the most recent figure of eight billion a day provided by Facebook. While the social network has trying to get media companies to produce as much video as possible, it still hasn't rolled out a way for publishers to make money from their videos.

So while BuzzFeed's infamous "exploding watermelon" video got more than 800,000 simultaneous views, the company didn't make any ad revenue from it whatsoever—which is presumably why Facebook feels it has to pay the media outlet to keep producing them.