In its third announcement about News Feed changes just this month, Facebook said it will start to surface more “stories from news sources in your local town or city.” Apparently inspired by conversations from his whirlwind tour of the US last year (told you he wasn’t running for president!), CEO Mark Zuckerberg emphasized that this change was part of a broader strategy to make time spent on Facebook more valuable.
Relax — this likely won’t have a material impact on the media world. Organic reach is already gone thanks to the overall de-emphasizing of news, so large publishers and media companies should be unaffected. Meanwhile, local media has already been fundamentally upended by Facebook.
Publishers and advertisers are already searching for new ways to build audiences in the wake of these changes. Facebook has suggested to some advertisers that they should ask their audiences to individually mark their pages as “see first” in their user settings, which has gone over exactly as well as you think it would, given how poorly this strategy worked in 2016’s Instagram algorithmocalypse. Other publishers are leaning further into paid distribution on Facebook, which is a W for Zuck.
Facebook announced another change last week, this time specifically affecting branded content. Put simply: they’ve revised their definition of branded content to “prohibit publishers and creators from being paid to post content they were not involved in creating."
Until this point, an advertiser could pay a brand or influencer to share any link, video, or image they wanted, so long as everyone used the official “handshake” offered by Facebook to identify the post as having been paid for. For big influencers and brands, this was a low effort, high reward strategy. With this new restriction, the strategy of using influencers simply as a distribution source for blog content, purchase pages, or promotional materials is on the outs.
Related: In signs of further influencer industry consolidation, some big brands are bringing influencer marketing in-house.
Video creation and consumption is perpetually and exponentially up and to the right. The battle for both platform and audience share is ongoing — and last week had some very interesting developments.
Last week Vince McMahon announced a reboot of the XFL coming in 2020 (17 years after a hugely hyped and hugely disastrous single season), and is focusing on partnering with digital platforms like Facebook and Twitter for distribution. Given the overwhelming success of the WWE Network and WWE’s overall investment in digital video, it is no surprise that McMahon is once again pursuing a strategy where he can control distribution and maximize monetization opportunities for his content.
(Worth the click: a retrospective on the XFL’s original season, which launched on TV with a cold open speech by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson).
The legendary media mogul has founded a new digital holding company called WndrCo to produce short form (think 10 minutes or less) video series, produced with Hollywood level budgets and talent. The hope is that these snackable formats will appeal to the ever-in-demand 18-34 age demographic, especially on mobile. Katzenberg recently brought on former HP CEO Meg Whitman to lead the initiative. Between her technology expertise and his tremendous Hollywood rolodex, they might have something on their hands here.
After spending the last year watching Facebook copy Snapchat features left and right, Twitter has decided to get in on the fun. Reports state that this Twitter has a “working demo” of the product, but no clear timing for its launch. It makes sense that Twitter is attempting to simplify the process of creating video in their product, since ease of use has long been a criticism from new users.
As publishers continue to seek out new revenue sources, a few interesting themes have surfaced in the publishing and content ecosystem.Remember a few years ago when it seemed like every publisher in the industry was signing huge guarantees with Outbrain and Taboola? Most of those deals are coming up for renewal, and now many publishers are moving away from guarantees, instead opting for revenue share/CPC deals. Given some of the backlash against these ad units and the potential commodification of the reader experience, it isn’t surprising that publishers are looking for more control, even at the expense of some revenue.
On the other side of things, we’re seeing publishers invest further in driving subscriptions. Axios made a lot of hay when they first announced plans for a $10,000 a year subscription plan, but it seems like they’re pushing forward to launch it this year. Condé Nast is launching a paywall on Wired any day now, after running various versions on The New Yorker since 2014, and there are surely more on the way. The New York Times is tightening up by cutting back on the number of free articles they grant users per month. Meanwhile, publishers like the Financial Times are laughing all the way to the bank, having invested in building out a paid subscriber base for almost a decade.
The important takeaway: As Google and Facebook suck up every last dollar in digital advertising, look for media companies to continue to innovate into finding new monetization opportunities. If they look a lot like branded content and subscriptions, well — don’t say we didn’t tell you.
Curated and published by Adam Orshan, Alexis Krantz, and Matt Levin in New York City.