Too often we conflate our own objectives with that of an organisation. Recently, I've noticed this happening with audience engagement and audience first-thinking. While extremely important, it is still a means to an end, a methodology that we must try to embody. It isn't an end point. So, here is a flow chart:
Facebook wants Live Video to be the future, paying close to $50mn to celebrities and publishers to create live video and prioritizing it in their newsfeed algorithm. While Facebook may be making the most headlines right now, it’s not the only company putting the spotlight on live video. In the last year Meerkat (now pivoted), Periscope (now owned by Twitter), YouNow and most recently YouTube and tumblr launched live streaming.
So, why is Facebook prioritizing streaming video? Because it “is looking to compete for television advertising... [and] is anxious about the future. People are sharing less about themselves, which slows Facebook’s growth and cuts at the heart of its most profitable product, the News Feed…[this] is one attempt to solve that problem.”
Live streaming may very well be a Facebook driven play for revenue and relevance, and not necessarily a question of demand. For instance, this recent Reuters study reports that over 3/4ths of people rely on text for their news, finding it faster and more convenient than video. What’s more, these findings apply to video at large -- not just live video; a majority of people prefer text to any type of video when getting their news.
Here, we look at different video formats:
An imperfect comparison, but there are certainly some similarities. Not to mention the same problems -- developing new audiences, convincing those audiences to give them money, running on tight margins, creating sustainable businesses. Museums, of course, can sell individual pieces in their collection -- and increase the value of those pieces somewhat artificially (no judgement). Not a luxury that media has.
We could probably work together more.
My desk at the FT faces a number of historical front pages chosen to document major world events. Interestingly, these pages reveal more than just the news of that day. There is a trend that emerges when you look at them chronologically: the increasing use of bylines over time.
Zvi Reich looked into how and why bylines developed in his 2010 article "Constrained authors: Bylines and authorship in news reporting." According to Reich's research, the development of regular bylining was a four stage process that extended throughout the 20th century. The stages:
- No bylines, in order to have a singular authoritative voice (like the Economist continues to have).
- Generic bylines. For instance listing agency copy to avoid plagiarism and comply with copyright law.
- Bylines to a few, select, staff members. Often for "role distancing." Meaning opinion or analysis pieces were set apart from the news by labeling the author. [Cultural context: this coincided with the rise of TV personalities, and may have been used as a way for print media to compete.]
- Universal bylining.
Reich wrote that universal bylining gave the reporters more power and enabled journalists' "ascent to stardom." This, in turn, gave journalists more power. Indeed, when news is widely available -- as it has increasingly become since the internet -- the journalists and their unique way of telling a story and interpreting an event become an important factor in driving consistent readership.
Interestingly, this power of a byline is likely to become even more true. We now have algorithms and bots which can write a news story. The incorporation of these systems into reporting makes differentiating between the human and the bot more important. Similarly, third party platforms like Twitter and Facebook enable more direct contact with audiences and also help with discovery and the power that journalists --- through their names -- espouse.
This power can be seen in journalists' use of their own names as leverage to develop a new, separate media outlets from where the personality gained his or her following. For instance, consider Ezra Klein and Vox, Nate Silver and 538, Kara Swisher & Walt Mossberg and Re/Code, etc.
This trend, however, is not consistent across the board. Editorials and homepages offer counterpoints.
Editorials -- the publisher's view or take on the news of the day -- are typically unsigned. Yet even here we find the lack of byline is less true than it once was. Most recently, the New York Times has published signed editorials. Here, the Public Editor cites Andrew Rosenthal about the choice:
It seemed to make sense to try signed editorials when they are not really a declaration of policy, but more of an essay, especially on subjects we have covered a great deal... signed ones won’t take positions that contradict those of the editorial board. But we also want to keep looking and moving forward.
This hearkens back to the first stage -- authoritative voice -- but is slowly changing and may follow a different trajectory.
Secondly, this same bylining trend is only partially true online. In the case of the NYT Reich states that "there were substantially more bylines on the front page than on the inner pages." Yet, on the homepage we only see brand journalists and authors -- more similar to the third stage -- but without stage one or two coming first. With the homepage becoming less important, and article pages more important, it will be interesting to see how this changes.
An excellent piece on re/code used Facebook and media companies as an example when considering "what happens when what you do is now done by someone else." But, the author didn't take it far enough, arguing that Facebook (a platform) now does two of the five things that media companies traditionally did, here:
But actually, Facebook does all five.
1. Curates via algorithm (and apparently people too)
2. Distributes to audiences through their platform.
3. Monetizes through advertising.
4. Hosts content through Instant Articles.
5. Creates content by paying publishers to post certain formats, for instance Live Video, and through its acquisitions like Oculus Rift, which creates both hardware and some proof of concept VR experiences.
Now, some may argue that Facebook isn't really "creating" but sponsoring content. And to a certain extent that is true, but it is certainly moving more towards creating, and it is naive to think they won't become a "publisher." More likely is that Facebook just won't call themselves that.
Facebook is already a concern to publishers, who are losing control over the distribution of their content. But, at least for now they still create the content that Facebook distributes. What happens to publishers when Facebook decides to properly move into content production?
It seems likely that those who have niche business and have already moved to subscription models -- showing that individuals are willing to pay for their content -- will be okay, but will have to figure out how to work that model into distributed content. More teasers (a nice example is what FastCo does with Medium) or working with other publishers to build a paywall on/with Facebook (Google's AMP works with subscription models, for instance), seem to plausible outcomes.
But, what happens to everyone else?