Commentary

Does Facebook Actually Have An Audience?

This Vidblog previously ran March 7, 2017.

The buzz for a while now has been that Facebook will be the next entity to jump into the original content business.

In the spirit of the-more-the-merrier, I say good for Facebook.

They say there are only six basic stories in the world. Some say there are seven. But that’s another story.

Last year, FX President John Landgraf counted up 417 scripted shows on TV and online in 2015, and predicted 500 shows this year.

The “peak TV” crisis--we are just too creative--seems to be without a cure. Netflix is spending $6 billion on content this year, and Amazon is spending $4 billion.

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My point: If Facebook is getting in the game, it must realize there is a lot of competition out there — and this is not quite their bag.

At its core, Facebook is the place friends and acquaintances share cheery hellos and venomous drop-deads that people spend all day composing and reading. Facebook Live is mostly nonsense, but has gained a reputation as the place to watch a series of grisly incidents, like murders, beatings and suicides.

If you had to describe the fare at Facebook, domestically or worldwide, I’d bet one of your descriptions would be “disagreeable.” There's a lot of yelling going on. 

There is not a Facebook audience. There is, really, a big crowd that uses Facebook, but it is not one solid base. It is almost the opposite.

Nonetheless, Facebook hired Ricky Van Veen, founder of CollegeHumor.com, to suss out longer-form content for the social site, which dearly wants to keep its billions of users locked in. With money and a known brand, Facebook sounds like a logical new content entrant.

“Our goal is to kick-start an ecosystem of partner content for the tab, so we’re exploring funding some seed video content, including original and licensed scripted, unscripted and sports content, that takes advantage of mobile and the social interaction unique to Facebook,” Van Veen said, according to Consumerist.

Today The Wall Street Journal reports that Facebook “is mainly interested in weekly series, with episodes lasting up to 30 minutes. One genre Facebook isn’t interested in, at present, is hard news—a fact rankling some news organizations that have dedicated significant resources to previous Facebook video initiatives, including its push into live video.”

The edgy fare that Netflix and other digital makers are creating isn’t necessarily overtly political. But I’d say most of it comes with far more attitudinal edge than typical content on television. Its comparative riskiness is conditioned by the fact it’s a pay service. If you want it, you'll pay for it.

Contrasting that, Facebook’s audience is all over the place. Whatever content it puts up there will be reaching a crowd of potential viewers that range from the suburban bridge club crowd to inner-city rappers to alt-right wingnuts. That’s definitely not a crowd that can be programmed to, particularly because the programming you “like” will likely be the stuff all the people who aren’t like you would not like. 

Paul Klein, the acerbic, witty programmer who ran NBC’s entertainment division before TV got split up into 500 channels, used to say the typical TV viewer looked at the prime-time schedule at ABC, CBS and NBC each night and then chose “the least objectionable programming.” It was his job to offer it.

Back then, those three networks were each divvying up about 100 million households into thirds. Well, Facebook reaches 1.7 billion unique visitors a month. How do you please a crowd like that?


pj@mediapost.com


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