Facebook has been taking a lot of heat from both publishers and advertisers lately. Advertisers are angry when their ads appear next to “fake news,” or even real, but offensive news like the live streaming of violent crimes. Publishers are not seeing much monetization from their AMP pages, and have become reluctant to give away their audiences. Several big ones have already returned to directing readers back to their own sites, which they are now optimizing for faster page load times. And user-generated content is down.
At last week’s F8 Developer Conference, the company laid out plans for its future, and none of them really had advertisers or publishers in mind. Of course this was a developer conference, but there was a notable lack of representation from media companies.
The company wants advertisers to run midroll ads on longer form video content, but brands are reluctant to do that, because they know people who watch videos on Facebook — and there are precious few of them anyway — do not want to watch long form content on their phones while they’re on the way to work. In addition, no one knows if mid-roll ads will ever convert to sales.
Facebook’s head of product, Chris Cox, spoke about the fake news issue in his presentation about Facebook and the media.
“We know that people don’t want to be lied to or deceived on our platform, and that is a role we take 100 percent responsibility for, We’ve put a lot of our teams up against this problem: How do we make sure people can’t spread false news and disinformation on our platform?”
As the company looks to lean more heavily on video, which will be augmented with animated tools, enhanced by artificial intelligence and made more immersive using 360-degree cameras and virtual-reality techniques, the risk of abuse only grows, critics said. Yet so does the danger of shutting down the expression it hopes to foster.
Although brands can imagine ways in which they would use virtual reality, the audience for VR anywhere in the world is small yet, and there’s not much evidence Facebook, with an older audience, is any different. It will take a while for Facebook to begin monetizing virtual reality content.
Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t kidding when he said he didn’t build the company to make money, but rather to connect the world. He has succeeded in creating a site where consumers are empowered to ignore brand messages and to respond poorly to publishers’ news posts. We sat in on a conference call with Corey Weinberg, who covers Facebook for The Information, and this is what he had to say about Facebook’s other bet, augmented reality:
Facebook gave a pretty soft sell on augmented reality. They launched with Nike as a partner, but there don’t seem to be many incentives for developers to develop for AR. For now, it’s a closed beta to find out how users respond to it. On the other hand, games and commerce are definitely on the roadmap for the future. There will be more social interactions, and more ability to leave sticky notes for your friends.
But this doesn’t seem to be a business platform — more something for its users. The softness of the sell for this somewhat futuristic platform tells us that they are having a problem getting users to share, which is their existential dilemma. Facebook has seen a real decline in user-generated content. (Facebook’s Spaces was the company’s bet on social VR. You, as an avatar, can hang out with your friends in VR. This is not new, as we did that fifteen years ago in Second Life.)
There didn’t seem to be any big media brands present at F8, except for the Wall Street Journal and CNN bots, who both use bots on Messenger.
Quite frankly, we think Facebook is flailing as it seeks to cut off all its competitors at the pass, without knowing which is a significant threat.