Facebook and Snapchat: The New Networks And What They Mean For Publishers

Take a moment to think about all the amazing network TV shows produced over the years: “I Love Lucy,” “The Jeffersons,” “All in the Family,” “Friends,” “Cheers,” “Seinfeld,” “Lost,” and “Empire.” Even “Monday Night Football.”

Probably just about all those shows have a special place in your heart. Just as likely, you may have a fond feeling for the networks that each ran those shows. The irony about that spillover goodwill: networks (mostly) don’t produce shows. Content creators do. As we ponder what the “television” of the future looks like, it’s important to remember this, and think about the role of the “networks” of the future.

In traditional TV, networks license shows from production companies (admittedly production companies they increasingly also own) and sell ads against them. Networks’ role in the TV ecosystem is to aggregate audience and distribute video content, subsidized by advertising.

Aggregating audience. Distributing content. Supported by video ads. Sound familiar in the digital world too? It should. That’s the business of Facebook and Snapchat. And it’s time for content creators (in this case, digital publishers) to stop thinking of Facebook and Snapchat as social-media sites, and start thinking of them as the next generation of TV networks. And if you’re a publisher in this new “TV” business, you need to be in the video-production business.

Let’s do some quick math. If a traditional TV network programs a day of shows with new content every 30 minutes, over a full 24-hour period that would be 48 pieces of content, each seen by a few million viewers (depending on ratings). In that same period, the new “networks” Snapchat and Facebook deliver 8 BILLION video streams, involving perhaps millions of pieces of content.

Getting content onto a television network remains a grueling process of selection, production and culling. The barrier for entry for Snapchat and Facebook? Almost zero. And it’s about to accelerate. On April 12, Facebook will open its Instant Articles program to all publishers, becoming the world’s largest publishing platform. Not incidentally, it will become the world’s largest TV network, rivaled perhaps only by YouTube.

The launch could set off a land grab for smart publishers who move aggressively to create video content for the new distribution opportunity. Why? Instant Articles promises to provide creators three key ingredients that every publisher needs for success: Audience availability, scale and price. The numbers with Snapchat aren’t quite as formidable yet, but growth rates for video created and viewed there continue to accelerate at remarkable levels. Consider these facts:

  1. This year, 78 million Millennials — more than 92% of all US millennial Internet users — will be watching video online, according to eMarketer.
  2. This audience represents about a fourth of the entire U.S. population, with $200 billion in annual buying power, according to most recent estimates.
  3. With a combined 16 billion video streams per day across Facebook and Snapchat alone, clearly video is the format that users want.
  4. More than half of U.S. homes are already streaming video to their living-room TVs.
  5. Platforms such as Beachfront allow for distribution AND monetization of this new channel all in one platform, across all screens, reducing cost and friction for publishers.
  6. Average video CPMs are significantly higher than traditional in-line banner ads, whose value has been plummeting for years now.
  7. Banner ads have lower performance levels than CPC-based native Facebook ads, meaning ads you sell into Facebook Instant Articles are immediately at a disadvantage.

Managing Facebook and Snapchat as TV channels rather than social-media referral platforms requires a mental shift for publishers. But rethinking content and audience engagement approaches is essential for success in this looming world of publishing-meets-televisions.

The audiences for Facebook and Snapchat each have their own expectations and idiosyncrasies, but the common thread is not “social,” it’s video. And much like advertisers who invented the 30-second spot when traditional television became the dominant medium for audience engagement, so must digital-era publishers lean into video content creation. These new “networks” are becoming the dominant medium for audience engagement of the new future. Publishers need to create accordingly.

By Frank Sinton, CEO of Beachfront Media

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