Facebook vs. media: this image shows where the power lies

July 5, 2015, 4:47 PM UTC
Facebook Headquarters
Gilles Mingasson—Getty Images

Facebook is starting to unroll its new “Instant Articles,” and the media industry has been buzzing about the potential for publishers. Under a set of deals, the likes of the New York Times and BuzzFeed will “publish” articles right within Facebook’s iOS app where they will reach a mass audience – and everyone will make money.

But others are uneasy. My colleague Mathew Ingram thinks feeding Facebook is a dangerous bargain, while the CEO of Dow Jones recently warned media executives not to “run like headless chickens” into content partnerships they can’t control. It’s too soon to say how the Facebook (FB) partnerships will play out. But to get an idea of why people are concerned in the first place, take a look at this image, which shows the relative size of the “partners” expressed as heights in the animal kingdom:

Facebook's 2014 revenue is to News Corp what a lion's height — shoulder to ground — is to a duck's height. Note: The 2014 revenue for News Corp represents only its news and information segment, not the entire corporation.Facebook’s 2014 revenue is to News Corp what a lion’s height — shoulder to ground — is to a duck’s height. We used the height of some common animals to show the power imbalance.Graphic by Stacy Jones

The image, which is based on annual revenue, shows two big traditional media names, the New York Times (NYT) and News Corp (publisher of the Wall Street Journal), and one upstart, BuzzFeed. All are much smaller than Facebook, the lion. (Facebook’s 2014 revenue is to News Corp’s 2014 revenue as a lion’s height is to a duck’s, and so on.)


While height doesn’t always translate to strength in the animal world, the respective animals do reflect the real-world power dynamic between Facebook and the media outlets. The social network has the power to grant them huge floods of online traffic but, as the past shows, it can just as easily take it away again. Moreover, there’s little the media companies can do to pressure Facebook – if one of them decides to quit, Facebook can simply replace them with someone else; it already has the Guardian, National Geographic on board, and others are no doubt waiting in the wings. This could be why News Corp (NWSA) (whose executive warned of “headless chickens”) has yet to sign up.

The longterm picture is even more frightening if you’re a media company. As this chart shows, the revenue trend of Facebook versus the traditional news outlets is very different:

FB vs media company revenue

As you can see, Facebook is growing rapidly while the New York Times and News Corp are struggling to tread water. Meanwhile, Facebook is investing a lot of its money into new products – including media tools like video – while the media companies have been forced to undergo layoffs.

So what does the animal image of Facebook and the media companies ultimately tell us? Truth be told, nothing we don’t know already. But it is a useful reminder of who can eat who.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this post did not mention that News Corps $6.2 billion 2014 revenue, as represented on the chart above, includes only its news and information services.

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