Facebook, learning from its agitated relationship with publishers, is contemplating a commercial product that could prove to broadcasters it wants to share rather than steal media budgets chasing the shift in how TV is watched.
It was only a matter of time before the social network made such a play; advertisers are no longer treating social networks as a way to push their 30-second ads in front of more people. They are going to these platforms to reach audiences that are cutting the cord or never even had a cord to begin with.
It’s little wonder then why Facebook has been meeting broadcasters in recent months. TV executives tell Facebook’s director of agency partnerships Ed Couchman two things; that it is expensive to produce content, and it is hard to protect the intellectual property of their content on third party platforms, areas which they believe Facebook should support them on.
When probed on specifics to overcome broadcasters monetisation woes, Couchman speculated that an Instant Articles-like proposition could work for them, but admitted “we need to work it out together because quite simply we don’t have the answers”.
What little he can share hints at the feature giving broadcasters something they have grappled with for many years - longevity with viewers. Couchman explains that a broadcaster only has the length of its show to build a relationship with viewers, making it difficult to build anticipation around the next episode or engage the audience before and after it airs.
“The question is how can you have a better relationship with the viewer and that is where I think Facebook can come in,” he adds. Facebook’s ambition for TV is for it to act as “more than paid comms”, paving the way for the platform to develop a standalone platform for broadcasters to push content directly onto.
What it all comes down to for broadcasters is making their TV budgets work harder off the back of digital as new power players like Netflix and Amazon steal eyeballs.
It's a tricky balance for broadcasters at a time when the advent of OTT and live-streaming threatens to pull more attention (and consequently advertisers) toward on-demand services and social networks. In fact, Facebook added nearly two Viacoms of ad revenue last quarter, according to Rich Greenfield, an analyst with the financial firm BTIG.
If that sounds threatening to broadcasters, then Couchman is at pains to reiterate what the company has claimed for some time – that it wants to amplify media rather than own it.
It’s a pledge publishers have found hard to swallow, primarily because the social network’s impact on their earnings is more pronounced. Broadcasters may find that pitch easier to buy into given TV still sits at the heart of most media plans as seen by it recently surpassing £5bn in ad revenue for the first time. Recognising the value of the content driving that growth, Facebook is slowly maneuvering itself into a position where it could become a provider of online television.
This is a shift that has been years in the making. As it moves from second screen to first screen, Facebook has taken a leaf out of TV’s book when it comes to trying to offer the convenience of on-demand TV alongside the popularity of live broadcasts. This is exemplified by the BBC’s decision to use the live-streaming platform to announce this season’s line-up of Match of the Day with host Gary Lineker, and prior to that take audiences behind-the-scenes at the Olympics.
“Facebook Live can take you to places you wouldn’t normally go and enhance the linear output,” Couchman says, “With the Euros for example, BBC can do halftime analysis on Facebook Live. Sport is a really interesting area.”
Live formats are something many broadcasters have built their success upon, with the unfaltering popularity of reality shows such as The X Factor, live sporting broadcasts, and news, evidence of this. As such, Couchman does not believe Facebook is ever going to compete with TV’s long-established live formats, dismissing Periscope’s bet that viewers would watch a full-length show on a social platform. There’s a reason Live is capped to 30 minutes; its role is to “add some value”, not replace what’s already on TV, he explains.
Dispelling myths that TV has reached an inflection point, the Facebook executive said “I don’t think TV has, people have”. Pointing to research by Deloitte that outlines how often people check their phone in the middle of the night, demonstrating the increased reliance and time spent on mobile, he believes “that throws up challenges for broadcasters, publishers, everyone that produces content”.
Google’s more bullish approach
When Facebook’s vice president for EMEA Nicola Mendelsohn likened the company’s relationship with broadcasters to “really happy bedfellows” at Mipcom last week it was a timely reminder of how different its approach has been compared to Google's.
The search behemoth has unabashedly been antagonistic in its attempt to muscle in on TV; in April, it published a report suggesting in 80 per cent of cases adverts on YouTube are more effective at driving sales than those on TV. Google went on to went on to call on advertisers to allocate up to six times more of their budget to YouTube than they currently do, sparking an enraged response from the TV industry.
Lindsey Clay, chief executive of Thinkbox, the marketing body for commercial TV that publicly denounced YouTube following its “aggressively anti-TV behaviour”, said Facebook’s approach is “almost the opposite”.
“Facebook don’t set out to commission research to somehow prove that TV is ineffective or that advertisers ought to be taking money out of TV and putting it into Facebook. Or if they are doing that then they are doing it very silently and we are not aware of it.
“They have reached out to us, they have invited us to talk about how we might collaborate in order to educate advertisers better on how to get the best out of the broadcaster/Facebook relationship. They are very keen to communicate that they don’t see Facebook as a threat to TV. I don’t know if that behaviour is partly influenced by what they have observed from YouTube...I think it is a much more productive way forward.”
Google, by comparison, is to a certain degree “dictated from the West Coast of the US”, she says, meaning the local staff “are not always the key drivers of some of the overall strategies”.
Clay believes that while Facebook is keen to collaborate with broadcasters to get their high-quality content on its platform, the “other half of the business” is working out “how can advertisers get the best out of that relationship”, given how strong TV advertising is.
If Facebook is to unlock the future of TV for advertisers, then it will need to establish measurement standards that show the impact its ads have alongside TV, to prove that fragmented media consumption is an opportunity, rather than a constraint.
“Measurement is a thing that planners and strategy guys ask all the time, but it is such a hard thing to deliver,” Couchman muses, “Look at the time it takes BARB even to measure non-linear TV with VOD. I think everyone nods their head and says ‘yes it is something we should do’ - it is probably one of the hardest things to achieve though.”
Recognising this is a critical issue, Nielsen rolled out Digital Ad Ratings (DAR), which refuses Facebook’s data with BARB data, to help advertisers track online campaigns that run on multiple sites. Yet when it comes to the digital players like Facebook and Youtube, DAR is so far limited to tracking metrics such as audience reach and the number of ads delivered, and cannot track metrics like viewability and video duration.
For Facebook to enjoy a fruitful friendship with TV then the platform has much work to do, with last month’s admission that it was inflating video views adding heat to the fire. But if its efforts - whether chivalrous or not - prove anything, it's that TV is not dead, it’s diversifying. That’s an exciting growth prospect for a company poised to benefit from how the fragmentation of TV/video audiences will dictate where ad spend goes.