Facebook: The Latest Player in the Premium Content Game

Conor Norris
Jun 24, 2016 · 3 min read

Since its inception in 2004, Facebook has built a digital empire by curating user-generated-content (UGC). Their flagship products Facebook.com, their insanely popular mobile app, and Instagram are ultimately reliant on a constant influx of quality UGC to keep users in their walled garden for as long as possible, and continually coming back for more.

Bolstered by a massive global user base of individuals eager to share their cherished vacation photos and concert videos, Facebook’s proprietary — and highly guarded — content recommendation algorithms have provided us all with endless entertainment, all free of charge.

Facebook provided a gigantic venue, and we showed up with the party. And now they’re making a fortune from ads.

But with the recent revelation that Facebook is seeing a decline in users sharing content to the social network — exacerbated by the fact that everyone and their mother (myself included) is now pouring their wildest drunken moments into Snapchat’s mobile app (making Evan Spiegel look like a fucking genius for turning down Facebook’s $3B acquisition offer) — it now appears that Facebook is taking a page out of Netflix’s playbook by investing in premium video content.

Indeed, we recently learned that Facebook has inked over 140 contracts worth a combined $50m with individual celebrities like Deepak Chopra and Russell Wilson and media companies including The New York Times, BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, Mashable and Vice to produce original Facebook Live videos. In effect, Facebook users will soon begin to see far more professionally-produced live videos appearing higher up in their News Feed.

Which begs another question as to whether or not a live video of an exploding watermelon should even be considered quality content; I’d personally rather watch an episode of House of Cards.

Similar to Netflix’s determination that simply curating content that was becoming increasingly available elsewhere (ie, Amazon), and wasn’t enough of a draw to spur longterm customer growth, Facebook is now charting the same course by investing in premium, exclusive video content.

Simply put, in order to attract a large audience, you need to deliver original, high-quality content that can be found exclusively through your distribution channel(s). Side note: my cousin Ciarán wrote a great piece on Netflix’s move into original content, emphasizing that quality content is the cardinal rule for any form of media company.

With their massive push into video, Facebook’s algorithm is now prioritizing video content, especially live videos (Facebook Live), within their heavily-trafficked News Feed. In effect, Facebook is building the next generation of TV altogether, whereby users can easily curate content from their favorite content providers. As they seek additional revenue sources, and ways to attract more marketing dollars, the next major growth opportunity lies in usurping TV altogether.

One Facebook executive even predicted that our News Feeds will be filled with video content within five years, a potential reality that has caused text-lovers to defend the merits of the written word; industry analysts have gone as far as to predict the (perhaps inevitable) death of the link as we know it.

Articles are dead, long live video!

The monumental shift to video, spurred largely by Facebook’s evolving business model, poses a catastrophic challenge for digital media companies who have built businesses models on the notion of driving traffic to their owned-and-operated websites and monetizing from there.

It’s proven difficult for publishers to keep up with today’s Facebook-Google duopoly. Facebook in particular has turned the digital media world upside down in recent years (see: Mashable lays off a sizable chunk of their editorial team in a “strategic shift” towards video).

As Facebook goes full force on video, this is likely to cause the greatest impact on publishers that we’ve seen yet. The articles that they’re sharing to Facebook won’t receive as many organic impressions (unless, of course, you publish that article through Facebook’s native Instant Articles mobile format). As if the model of digital publishing wasn’t hard enough already, Facebook just made it that much harder.

Though hopefully publishers don’t face the same fate as the watermelon.

Conor Norris
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