Facebook To Join the Film Foray

Joe Flint and Deepa Seetharaman in The Wall Street Journal today reported that Facebook plans to begin producing original, “TV-quality shows” by as soon as late summer 2017.

In meetings with major talent agencies including Creative Artists Agency, United Talent Agency, William Morris Endeavor and ICM Partners, Facebook has indicated it is willing to commit to production budgets as high as $3 million per episode, people familiar with the situation say.

That’s the price range of high-end cable-TV shows. Facebook is also interested in more moderate-cost scripted shows in the mid-to-high six-figure-per-episode range, these people say. The company will be aggressive about trying to own as much of that content as possible.

The news comes a little more than half a year after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on a call with analysts that he wanted to focus on “putting video first across [Facebook’s] apps.”

Zuckerberg believes that within five years most of what people consume online will be video, subsuming words and photographs. And he’s determined to catch this next big content wave — and escalate competition for eyeballs and advertising dollars with the buzzy and youth-friendly mobile app Snapchat.

At SXSW 2017, Facebook had a huge presence; and a major emphasis of their presentations was video.

Facebook obviously isn’t the first social media platform to experiment in video content. Last year, Twitter tried streaming Thursday Night Football with the NFL. (That privilege was transferred to Amazon for the 2017-2018 season.) And of course YouTube pioneered the video streaming game and continues to innovate with original content on its YouTube Red platform.

The differentiator for Facebook is apparent: 1.28 billion people use Facebook every day, which is absolutely huge potential for the social media goliath.

I am, unfortunately, a contributor to that statistic — though using Facebook is more mindless scrolling than it is active participation for me. (I’ve thought about quitting, but Facebook still seems to be the best repository for photos with family and friends. Maybe someone should write about quitting Facebook.) So would quality videos work to re-engage people like me? I’m not sure.

It would primarily depend on the quality of the content. If Facebook starts spitting out Netflix-caliber shows that people can’t help but talk about, I’ll probably tune in. And how convenient! Facebook would also be able to provide the place to have such conversations. With their budget, that does seem like it’s in the realm of possibility.

However, as The Wall Street Journal reported, Facebook wants to play it safe, at least initially, with its content:

Facebook has told people it wants to steer clear of shows about children and young teens as well as political dramas, news and shows with nudity and rough language.

With gritty shows like “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Orange is the New Black” available on other streaming services, I’m not sure Facebook’s tidier content will survive.

If Facebook is able to produce content similar in quality to shows on other streaming services, I’m not really interested in watching them on my small screen — and that’s pretty much the only place I use Facebook. Will they make Facebook more compatible with larger screens, thereby easing the process of streaming? Will Facebook integrate with smart TVs and streaming devices like Roku in a more robust way? Without these complementary improvements, adopting Facebook as a primary streaming service is going to be a tough sell.

In the end, it’s an interesting opportunity for filmmakers, advertisers and consumers alike. A friend of mine, who used to work in the film industry, says the results of such an experiment are TBD, but that he’s been surprised before.

“Honestly, I didn’t know how it would work for Amazon, and here they are, killing it,” he said. “If Facebook can use their algorithms effectively they have a fighting chance at getting in the game. Who the hell would have rejoiced about Netflix producing six Adam Sandler movies? But because they did that we get things like Glow, too.”

Facebook has demonstrated its knack for longevity over and over again. (I thought it would go the way of Myspace back in the day, but here we are.) If I had to place a bet one way or the other, my money would be on Facebook’s new experiment paying off — and probably in ways we can’t yet imagine.

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