Company / division: Facebook
Facebook Moderation Guidelines Leak (May 22, 2017)
Facebook is Pushing Back Launch of Original Video Content (May 22, 2017)
I’ve been watching the news from the recent TV upfronts and waiting for the definitive article that summarizes what’s been said and done, and while I’m not convinced this is it, it does a good job of characterizing the basic trends at issue. The two big underlying trends are the continuing decline of live linear viewing of traditional TV and the massive growth of online advertising, which could be presumed to have put an enormous dent in TV ad spending but actually haven’t. However, the TV companies still see online advertising platforms as a big threat, and spent an unusual amount of time during the upfronts trashing Facebook and Google (though mostly not by name) while talking up their own massive reach. At the same time, though, these companies are increasingly mimicking the very same things that make Facebook and Google’s ad platforms attractive: detailed targeting of ads and tracking of what happens after viewers see them. At the same time, the TV networks seem somewhat lost on the content side, rebooting old shows and formats, latching onto new gimmicks like live musicals, and generally showing a lack of imagination in protecting and rejuvenating their brands. Meanwhile, the strongest audiences on traditional TV are live sports fans and older generations watching procedural franchises like CSI and NCIS. And of course the big online platforms are investing in lots of both traditional sports content and some new formats of their own. Therefore, though each side would like to paint itself as providing unique value, the two are increasing converging on a similar set of content and ad capabilities, while the audience continues to shift from traditional linear TV to a host of online and streaming alternatives, which will inevitably pull ad dollars that way too.
via LA Times
Twitter already has a deal with Major League Baseball to stream some games, and now it appears Facebook has a similar arrangement. The latter will broadcast 20 Friday-night games throughout the season. Given other recent deals for major sports, including Twitter’s last year for Thursday night NFL games, that might sound like a lot, but of course there are 30 teams in the MLB, each of which plays 162 regular season games, which means that including the postseason there are nearly 2500 games in total each year, so Facebook will air less than 1% of the total. And I’m guessing Friday night games have among the lowest viewership of any games, so this feels like a low-risk proposition for MLB and an experiment at best for Facebook. For viewers, too, the chances that Facebook will be showing the one game your team is playing in any given Friday night will be slim. But this feels like a good step for Facebook as it both scales up its live broadcast offerings and feels out what the audiences will be like for sports on Facebook.
Facebook is taking additional steps to lower the ranking of clickbait articles in the News Feed, something it began explicitly targeting last year. In the past, it’s used a combination of signals including the ratio of reads to shares to determine whether an article over-promises and under-delivers, and down-ranking sites and domains which persistently post clickbait. But it’s now examining the actual content of the headline for both withholding information and exaggeration and lowering the ranking for those pieces which exhibit these characteristics. On the one hand, this is a good thing: less of this content in Facebook means we’re all more likely to read worthwhile stories that actually tell us something useful or meaningful. But on the other hand, this stuff has always existed and no-one has ever attempted to regulate it in the way Facebook now is. Unlike fake news, which has the power to sway elections and have other significant negative real-world impacts, clickbait has far less real-world impact. And if people continue to click on those headlines, it suggests they’re interested in reading the contents whether or not the headlines are misleading or manipulative. The stuff wouldn’t be shared by users on Facebook or show up in the News Feed in the first place if it wasn’t popular, which means Facebook is making value judgments here which not all of its users would agree with. As with Google’s frequent tweaking of its search algorithms to suppress sites with behaviors it disapproves of, I always feel this is dangerous territory.
Instagram Launches Selfie Filters (May 16, 2017)
Facebook Announces Yet Another Measurement Screwup (May 16, 2017)
Weekly Narrative Video – AR vs VR (May 12, 2017)
This week’s Narrative Video covers the “AR vs VR” narrative, and is available now to subscribers on the AR vs VR narrative page. In this video, I discuss the debate about terminology between AR, VR, and Microsoft’s preferred “Mixed Reality”. But I also talk about the current state of both VR and AR and how I see both playing out over the rest of the year. The narrative has been in the news this week, with Microsoft making announcements about mixed reality at Build, and Magic Leap both reaching out to developers and creatives and allegedly readying another round of funding. If you’re not yet a subscriber, you can sign up for a free 30-day trial to see this and other Weekly Narrative Videos, all this week’s posts and the narrative essays, which are exclusive to subscribers.
Instagram Launches Uploads From Mobile Web (May 8, 2017)
Facebook Expands Paid WiFi Access Product to India (May 4, 2017)
Facebook Hiring For Original Video Content Roles (May 4, 2017)
Facebook has a job opening on its site for a “Film Producer”, and the description for the role talks about “motion picture content” in a way that makes it sounds like this person is being hired to make movies. On the face of it, that’s an odd thing to do: movies aren’t made by in-house producers, they’re made on an ad hoc basis using the filmmakers (directors, producers, cinematographers, writers etc.) who make sense for a particular project, so if you’re looking to make original content you hire people good at commissioning it, not the people who actually make it. However, the detail of the posting makes it seem as though what this person will be responsible for creating probably isn’t movies for consumption by Facebook’s audience. I think Facebook means video where it says either film or motion picture, especially as it talks about “shareable content”, and a 90-minute movie is not overly shareable. I actually wonder whether this person will be creating content for internal use or to promote Facebook to its audience rather than to be enjoyed by the audience as entertainment. But Facebook’s earnings call this week reinforced the idea that Facebook is getting more serious about creating and seeding video content on the site to boost its video ad revenues, which are very dependent on longer-form video.
Mark Zuckerberg today announced that Facebook will be hiring 3,000 additional people (on top of the 4,500 it already has in this area) to work on reviewing content, in light of several recent horrific events that have taken place or been promoted on its live video platform. There have been calls for Facebook to shut down or severely limit its live video capability because of the murders and suicides which have been broadcast or bragged about on the platform, but that’s always felt a little overly heavy-handed to me. This approach is much more in line with what I’ve proposed, which is that Facebook needs better reporting tools and a more rapid response to those reports. Later today we’ll get an update on total employee numbers, but as of the end of 2016 Facebook had 17,000, meaning that its 4,500-strong existing team was already a quarter of total employees. Even if Facebook’s total headcount grows on the past trend line, 7,5000 employees in this area would make up around a third of its employees, which is remarkable. As Facebook dives deeper into hosting its own content, it’s having to spend inordinate amounts of money and employee time policing that content, something I suspect it didn’t fully anticipate when it embarked on this strategy a few years ago.