Major groups keep experimenting, looking to find the best ways to use Facebook and YouTube, both to expand their brands and eventually generate some revenue.
The top digital executives at Graham Media and Tegna Media say they will continue to post content on Facebook, hoping to lure consumers back to their websites and broadcasts — and perhaps even to make a buck or so.
But they see Google’s YouTube as a better fit for the kinds of programming local broadcasters produce and as an organization more eager to build a mutually lucrative relationship.
Despite the Facebook Journalism Project, a year-long outreach to its legacy media partners, Facebook still has a way to go before it works well for broadcasters, said Tegna’s Frank Mungeam
“YouTube has a very effective way of delivering a lean-back video experience,” he said. “I think we are all looking for that kind of a solution from Facebook and it’s not there yet.”
Graham’s Catherine Badalamente said she works closely with YouTube. “We spend a lot of time … talking [to them] about what our plans are for the year and what we are trying to accomplish and then they actually put lots of resources behind it.”
The big thing has been the development of a YouTube player for publishers. “I am feeling like that is going to allow us to stay ahead of the pack when it comes to having the best video experience.”
Graham’s relationship with YouTube goes deeper than it does with Facebook, she said. Facebook has only a small team working with publishers “and they are still weighing how they can work with us,” she said.
By contrast, YouTube is reassigning people to definitive projects, she said. “That speaks a lot.”
Mungeam and Badalamente were member of a Tuesday NewsTECHForum panel that also included two other group digital execs — Joe Fiveash of Raycom Media and Anthony Katsur, SVP, platforms of Nexstar Media — plus Lew Blanchette, system architect at Snell Advanced Media.
Mungeam and Badalamente said they are sticking with Facebook, despite some ambivalence about its value to their groups.
Mungean said that Facebook is smart, having built a business that, according to the latest Pew research, reaches 66% of U.S. adults with 45% getting news from Facebook.
“For us, the business challenge is to be just as smart and … [find] the opportunities to work with Facebook to advance our journalism and business goals.”
Mungeam said Tegna is “fully in” on Facebook’s Instant Articles. It may not work for newspapers that require some level of subscription revenue, but it “works for us.”
But “fully in” on Instant Articles does not mean all in on Facebook, he added. “We don’t put our premium video natively on Facebook because we don’t see a monetization solution yet. YouTube is a better solution for us there.”
One benefit of Facebook is that it allows broadcasters for the first time to interact with their viewers, he said. “So, we see it as a place where we can build our brand, a place where we can selectively monetize and increase traffic on our platform, but especially as a place to connect and listen to our audience.”
Badalamente said that Graham has used Facebook Live most effectively around big live events like WDIV Detroit’s broadcast of the city’s Thanksgiving Day parade.
“We are convinced that that was one of the reasons why our ratings were up significantly over a year,” she said.
She said it was initially opposed to streaming long-form programming on Facebook. “But we had heard from a number of different broadcasters that, when they are having those big events, going on Facebook Live … is actually helping their TV ratings in the end.”
Nonetheless, she said, she is seeing no quantifiable ROI from her Facebook involvement so she is trying to become less dependent on it. “We are going to put more effort into finding our own way because I can’t control what Facebook does.”
Facebook will continue to be a component of Graham’s digital strategy, she said, but it “will not be our everything.”
Some stations rely on Facebook for 60% of their digital traffic, Badalamente said. If that were true for Graham, “I would be panicked right now.”
Raycom’s Fiveash was more enthusiastic about Facebook, even though the ROI is elusive.
He said he determined that Raycom dedicates the equivalent of one fulltime employee at every station to feeding Facebook.
“Can we prove an ROI on that one FTE? Absolutely not,” he said.
However, he said, “I don’t think we are doing anything on Facebook that takes away from what we are doing on other platforms and I think the education and mindset change that comes from producing for Facebook is really valuable.”
From a “branding standpoint,” Raycom’s stations have to be on Facebook, he said. “From a distribution standpoint, it gets much trickier.”
Lew Blanchette, system architect at Snell Advanced Media, said when publishers get involved in a project with an uncertain ROI like Facebook, it is critical to drive down costs.
“And to drive down your costs, maybe the best thing you can look at is trying to figure out the number of ways you can take all of these pieces and automate more of it to get less people having to do less work.”
He also suggested “common workflows” that insure that video is automatically branded “so that when somebody is watching they get your logo and it will hopefully drive them back to your station.”
The panel touched on other digital topics demanding the attention of broadcasters like the new voice platforms and subscription or pay models.
The digital media, which typically accounts for less than 10% of station groups’ total revenue, cannot flourish on advertising revenue alone, said Raycom’s Fiveash.
“There are so many cool things, so many good stories on great platforms with functionality we never had before, but it’s hard for me to imagine any time relatively soon that all [are] going to be paid for with advertising,” he said.
“We are creating enough value for people to feel good about paying for it, but obviously we live in a world of everything is free and that’s a very risky move.”
Nexstar’s Katsur said that it is too early to pour time or resources into the voice platforms — Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
“The feedback we are hearing from agencies and brands is that they want to understand what the opportunity is in voice,” he said.
“I don’t think anyone quite understands what that is. I do think there is an opportunity in the form of content creative.”