Facebook is building an app for television and is asking publishers to create exclusive, TV-like shows for it, according to a new report. The Wall Street Journal reports that Facebook has been building the app, which would be available for boxes such as Apple TV. It is also talking to media companies about licensing TV-quality shows to be available on the app, the Journal reported, part of a long-term strategy to make video the center of the platform.
Facebook began working on an app last summer after discussing the idea for years, according to the Journal. But it’s not enough to build an app: Facebook needs to fill it with programming. Video on Facebook today consists mostly of short clips and experimental live streams — both formats that will be difficult to sell advertising revenue against. And advertising is the whole point of the exercise, because Facebook told investors recently that it’s running out of places in the News Feed where it could insert new ads.
And so Facebook is asking media companies to develop programming in exchange for a licensing fee. Facebook could then sell ads against the shows, which will be up to 10 minutes long and reportedly consist of both sports and scripted shows.
Meanwhile the cable bundle is gradually falling apart, creating an opening for tech companies to move TV programming and its attendant advertising revenue to their platforms. Google (with YouTube), Snapchat (with Discover), and Twitter (with its live shows) are all making this play. So far, the companies have struggled to siphon ad dollars away from TV. But by bringing the platform to users’ actual televisions, it may be easier for Facebook to make the case.
In any case, YouTube has a set-top app, which means Facebook needs a set-top app. YouTube’s app has always focused on search rather than discovery — you go there when you already know what you’re looking for. A Facebook TV app focused on exclusive, licensed programming might feel a bit less sprawling. (Facebook declined to comment.)
From the perspective of media companies — including Vox Media, which owns The Verge — Facebook’s investment in original programming could be a very good thing. Today publishers are heavily reliant on advertising revenue, which spurs them to seek massive audiences, sometimes at the expense of quality. Getting direct payments from Facebook and other media companies to make next-generation TV shows would reduce their dependence on advertising, and potentially help them build more sustainable businesses.