While there’s little chance that the social media powerhouse would adopt Rupert Murdoch’s suggestion that it pay media companies for “trusted content,” there are things it could do to strengthen its relationship with publishers and broadcasters to their mutual benefit.
Rupert Murdoch popped into the media news this week with a statement asserting that Facebook ought to pay media companies for their content just as cable operators pay Fox to carry its O&Os and cable channels.
He was reacting to Facebook’s decision of a few days earlier to identify “trusted sources” based on user surveys so that it can start cleansing itself of the toxic and fake content that has made the social media giant the target of lawmakers and regulators.
“If Facebook wants to recognize ‘trusted’ publishers, then it should pay those publishers a carriage fee similar to the model adopted by cable companies,” Murdoch said.
“The publishers are obviously enhancing the value and integrity of Facebook through their news and content but are not being adequately rewarded for those services. Carriage payments would have a minor impact on Facebook’s profits but a major impact on the prospects for publishers and journalists.”
It was a nice thought. Those cable fees have been the bedrock of the basic cable business since its inception and they have driven most of the growth in broadcasting for the past decade or so.
But I can’t imagine that Facebook is going to start paying for content. At this point, Facebook is so big and powerful that it can easily afford to ignore any publisher or broadcaster. They, however, cannot afford to ignore Facebook and the traffic it brings.
Facebook in not going to be taken in by Murdoch’s suggestion that carriage fees would have only “a minor impact” on Facebook’s profitability. Once established, fees tend to go up. Retrans went from minor to major impact on cable profitability in short order.
So, sorry Rupert, Facebook will not be cutting you any checks.
But I understand his frustration. So, herewith, are a few things Facebook could be doing to cement its relationship with publishers and broadcasters to their mutual benefit.
First, it can redouble its efforts to improve revenue opportunities for media that post content natively. It has made great strides here. Print media can post ads along with their text and graphics and keep most of the revenue.
It’s not so easy with video. Pre-roll and mid-roll ads have proved a turn off. However, broadcasters have been experimenting with bugs, bottom thirds and sponsor messaging within their video. Such approaches are promising. They appeal to advertisers and tend not to scare off users.
Second, Facebook needs to rethink its other recent decision to downgrade the prominence and amount of news in its newsfeed.
“Recently we’ve gotten feedback from our community that public content — posts from businesses, brands and media — is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other,” said CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a post.
“I’m changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions.”
I’m not fully buying that explanation. As with its new-found interest in trusted sources, I think Facebook is motivated primarily by a desire to keep the online discourse on a low simmer. One way of doing that it by turning down the political news and turning up the puppies, birthdays and vacations.
In any event, the move is a slap at news media that have fully embraced Facebook, hiring people to manage interaction with it, building workflows around it and searching for ways to monetize it.
Third, as I’ve argued here before, Facebook needs to embrace its inner editor. It needs to make its own calls on which sources can be trusted and which cannot. It’s the best and fastest way to create an environment that bona fide news sources will want to be a part of and want to invest in.
It’s not that hard to do. A small group of professional journalists could quickly separate the wheat from the chaff, hear appeals from those who feel they have been unfairly left out and continually reconsider all its decisions.
No doubt Facebook may suffer some blowback and may lose some users from the political fringes who object to the banishment of their favorite fringe news sources. But so be it. Upsetting people from time to time is inherent in editorial decision making.
Sooner or later, Facebook is going to have to accept the fact that it is a publisher and editor. Now’s the time.
Having scolded Facebook for downplaying news, it’s only fair that I mention that it is apparently working on an enhancement that could be a boon to trusted local news sources like TV stations and newspapers.
According to a story in BuzzFeed this week, the enhancement is a “module” that pops up from time to time in the NewsFeed with a slide inviting users to “catch up on news and discussions happening in your city.”
Beneath that is a listing of events from local public and private organizations and, then, an aggregation of news from local broadcasters and publishers.
From what I can tell, it would be immensely useful. The trick for broadcasters would be figuring out how to get their stories high up in the news aggregation without, of course, paying for it.
So, it was another interesting week in the world of Facebook, which never stops reinventing itself and explaining itself to its two billion users, lawmakers and the media.
I wouldn’t count on a retrans check from Zuckerberg, but Facebook as a partner that can not only help build traffic, but also become a source of significant extra revenue is still a possibility.