Some media companies say Facebook Live was a waste of time.

By Mathew Ingram
June 12, 2017

After initially pushing short-form video for Facebook Live, the social network is now trying to get publishers to create longer-form, episodic content instead. But the pivot has some media companies nervous about whether the shift will be worth their while or not.

According to a recent report from Reuters, the tech giant is signing deals with companies like BuzzFeed, Vox, and Group Nine (the publisher behind brands like NowThis and The Dodo) for more TV-style video, both short clips of about 10 minutes in length and longer shows of 20 minutes or more. It’s all part of an effort that has been spearheaded by Ricky Van Veen, the co-founder of CollegeHumor, who was hired by Facebook last year to expand its video efforts.

Facebook will pay up to $35,000 for each short project, and publishers will retain the rights to those creations. The longer video shows will get up to $250,000 each, and Facebook will own the rights.

A number of publishers have expressed reservations about the move, however, according to Digiday. The publishers, who remained anonymous in the report, say they are concerned if the investment of time and money required to produce longer-form video will be worth it, and several pointed to a lackluster experience with Facebook Live as one reason for their concerns.

“Facebook is going to spend money, and they’re going to spend money upfront, and that’s good. But it’s going to suck for media companies if they put all of this time and effort into original content and no one sees it,” said one media executive, whose company was paid for making Facebook Live videos, but hasn’t signed a larger deal for long-form content.

Another publisher told Digiday that a majority of his company’s Facebook Live content “was seen by very few people.” While some videos went viral, this person said, it wasn’t enough relative to what he and other publishers were spending to produce it.

The biggest unknown for publishers—as with every other partnership involving Facebook—is how a specific piece of content will be treated by the social network’s all-powerful algorithm, which determines who sees what and when in their news feeds. Will Facebook treat some publishers better than others?

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Facebook also admitted recently that it misstated a key video metric for more than two years, artificially inflating the numbers around video views, just one of a number of similar admissions about its ability to measure content.

When Facebook Live was rolled out with much fanfare a little over a year ago, publishers large and small dove head-first into producing as much video as possible. Media companies like the New York Times and the Washington Post—both of which were paid by Facebook—hired dozens of people specifically to produce streaming-video content for Facebook Live.

Apart from those who were being paid upfront by Facebook, however (something the social network stopped doing earlier this year), not many publishers have said they are making money from Facebook Live. That’s in part because Facebook hasn’t settled on a video ad strategy.

The company has been experimenting with pre-roll and mid-roll ads, but so far they are just experiments. Much of the Facebook Live video that has been produced so far has no advertising in it at all, apart from attempts to get viewers to click through to a publisher’s page. So it’s not surprising most media outlets haven’t been making a lot of money yet.

Facebook’s hope seems to be that longer-form, more TV-style video might be somewhat easier to monetize through advertising, and that it can pull some of the billions of dollars of existing TV ads away from television and convince advertisers to go digital.

It’s not alone in that hope, of course. Google is trying to do that with YouTube as well, and so is Amazon with Amazon Prime Video. And Snapchat’s parent company Snap recently embarked on a new video push that looks very similar to what Facebook is doing.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Snap has signed original show deals with media companies including NBCUniversal, Turner, Discovery, the BBC, Vice Media, the NFL, and ESPN, and is in talks with others to produce TV-style video for its Snapchat Stories feature. The move is part of Snap’s ongoing attempts to justify its $18-billion market cap.

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