LOAC 2017

Facebook Offers Stations Valuable Upside

As broadcasters continue to navigate the hard decisions over letting their content live on Facebook’s Instant Articles, executives from Scripps, Tribune and WRAL offer ground game tips for maximizing and monetizing its use. They told attendees of the Borrell Associates conference Monday that Facebook Live is also proving to be a powerful outlet for breaking news — and selling sponsored content.

Broadcasters have plenty to be wary about when it comes to publishing their original content natively on Facebook, but the platform’s pros still mitigate those concerns.

Not that broadcasters would be able to ignore Facebook anymore if they wanted to.

“We can’t tell our audience where to find us anymore,” says Tom Sly, VP of digital revenue at E.W. Scripps Co., speaking at the Borrell Associates Local Online Advertising Conference on Monday. “The consumer is in complete control.”

And the consumer is on Facebook. Given that, Sly and colleagues shared a number of granular tips on how best to use it, for example deciding whether to route content to Instant Articles, Facebook’s native publishing platform, or go the older route of linking to proprietary sites. They also explored some early forays into successful monetization on the platform, including its newer live-streaming side, Facebook Live.

Steve Baron, head of product for Tribune Media, says his company went all in when Instant Articles first became available. Eventually, it scaled back from putting 100% of its content there. “We needed to structure some boundaries around it,” he says.

That led to the development of a six-point “publishing checklist” to determine whether to use Instant Articles or posts linking back to Tribune’s sites. The criteria are pretty straightforward:


  • Posts need a title, content and a feature image.
  • They must be at least 251 words long.
  • They need to be HTML clean with embeds on their own line, not wrapped in HTML.

If a story doesn’t merit a six out of six, it bypasses Instant Articles for the mobile web.

John Conway, GM of Raleigh, N.C.’s WRAL.com, says his station took a more cautious approach to Instant Articles, climbing from about 33% of its content to 50% eventually. The step up didn’t cannibalize referral traffic as he feared, but proved instead to be additive.

“The content that is driving traffic to our website as referral traffic is very different than Instant Articles,” Conway says.

For instance, practical news on school closings and basic informational content is strong on referrals; crime and public safety news fares better on Instant Articles, he says.

The broadcasters were also bullish on Facebook Live, so much so that for Scripps, the directive is that all breaking news should be happening there first. It’s a pretty dramatic priority shift for newsrooms, Sly concedes, also allowing that there’s a dangerous element of creating an audience dependence there for breaking content.

And also this caveat: “If Facebook Live stops working, there’s no one to call.”

But the live streaming platform is proving to have an additive value for broadcasters as well, at least in terms of sweetening the pot for advertisers who need a little something extra to commit to a buy.

Conway cited a recent sponsored-content feature there, “CarSmarts,” to that end. The sponsor, a local car dealer, was hesitating on a larger buy until the Facebook Live element was thrown in, taking a video series from the dealer that was getting little traction on YouTube and exposing it to WRAL’s much larger audience. That led to closing a six-figure deal with the auto dealer, though Conway added that it’s important to manage client expectations on the platform — the request for extra cameras, lights and production values weren’t practical.

Sly agrees that sponsored content is a good monetization route, particularly as broadcasters wait for Facebook to make mid-roll ads available in the live stream. He recommends paying to boost those posts at a markup to the advertiser. “This is like any other third-party content,” he says.

Facebook monetization is still breadcrumbs next to broadcast revenue. But given the platform’s enormous user base and saying power — at least for now — Sly says there’s some good news in terms of local media’s relationship with it shifting to be less imbalanced.

Recent meetings among local media executives with Facebook’s media team, including one with its new head of news partnerships, Campbell Brown, are happening with more regularity than was once the case. And Facebook appears to be genuinely listening in those meetings, including consideration of a local newsfeed that might better promote news content.

“We do have a seat at the table,” Sly says. 

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