Facebook strikes deal with media groups

May 13, 2015 11:51 am

Facebook strikes deal with media groups

Henry Mance in London and Matthew Garrahan in New York

In their quest to build profitable and more far-reaching digital audiences, publishers in the US and Europe have turned to the world’s largest social network for help.

Nine media organisations, including the BBC, through its youth-oriented Newsbeat service, the Guardian and the New York Times, have struck a deal with Facebook to publish some of their content directly through the social network rather than simply hosting it on their own sites as part of a trial.

Facebook says the publishers will be able to keep 100 per cent of any revenue from advertising they sold directly. Publishers will also be able to sell remaining ad space via Facebook, which would take a 30 per cent cut.

The nine publishers initially participating in Instant Articles are the New York Times, National Geographic, BuzzFeed, NBC News, The Atlantic, The Guardian, BBC News, Spiegel and Bild, the German tabloid newspaper.

The move comes as increasing numbers of readers rely on the social network as the main portal through which they receive news. Facebook wants not only to point users to news sites but to be the place where they stay and consume it, too.

Facebook already accounts for nearly 20 per cent of the Guardian’s web traffic, excluding visits to its own apps, and about 15 per cent of traffic to the New York Times site.

The BBC and Bild declined to reveal their figures.

Mark Thompson, chief executive of the New York Times, says it made sense to tap into Facebook’s audience. “History suggests that judicious engagement with other platforms makes sense,” he told the Financial Times, adding that the newspaper will have complete control over which stories appear as “Instant Articles” in the Facebook feed.

The deal would give the company “access to new pools of users, people discovering your journalism and monetising through advertising”, he says.

The Facebook deal follows complaints by some publishers that internet groups such as Google and Facebook undermine their own online businesses.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, for example, a critic of Google and Facebook, is not.

Others have expressed concern that Facebook would have too much power over which stories appear and where they are placed.

Jeff Jarvis, a professor of journalism at City University of New York, says the distrust reflected “deal points that can be negotiated. And at least Facebook wants to negotiate”.

Notice to online publishers: Facebook is planning to make you an offer you cannot refuse. The social networking site has quickly emerged as the new power in the land when it comes to referring traffic around the internet. Just how much of a power is about to be tested.

Facebook said the scheme would give publishers “control over their stories, brand experience and monetisation opportunities”, including access to some user data.

It would also offer “a suite of interactive features”, such as easily zoomed photos and auto-play videos. Facebook says that would help improve the experience of news users who currently have to wait an average of eight seconds for stories to load.

“There’s a potential to give a more superior user experience,” says Mr Thompson.

Online sharing of news articles has already lured readers away from publishers’ homepages towards social media sites. According to the Pew Research Center, 39 per cent of Americans use Facebook for political news — significantly more than the proportion who use Yahoo News, Google News or Twitter to do so.

Tony Danker, the Guardian’s international director, said it was “great to see Facebook trialling new ways for quality journalism to flourish on mobile”.

Google is considering changes to its own news service. In a bid to build bridges with publishers, last month it announced €150m in grants to digital initiatives. The Financial Times is part of that initiative, but not of Facebook’s Instant Articles.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2015.


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