How E! News is making money from Facebook Live

After spending the past year investing in Facebook Live, NBCUniversal’s entertainment news unit E! News is starting to make money with the format.

Last month, E! News launched a new live video series on Facebook called “Freestyle.” Hosted by E! News correspondent Zuri Hall and E! News senior beauty editor Cinya Burton, the show focuses on beauty and fashion, with each episode highlighting different guest experts, products and trends within themes like “hair hacks,” “holiday must-haves” and “lip trends.” Spanning eight roughly 30-minute episodes, the show will run through January on Facebook, where E! News has grown to 9.6 million followers.

Unlike other Facebook Live shows from E! News, “Freestyle” is fully sponsored. Built for Ulta Beauty, each episode is “presented by” the beauty brand. Three episodes of the show will also feature Ulta Beauty products, while an episode airing last week was shot inside an Ulta Beauty store. Other elements of the sponsorship include featuring Ulta Beauty experts to show off the latest hair and makeup trends. Just like E! News’ editorial live videos, “Freestyle” episodes have a polished look featuring higher video quality and multiple camera angles.

For E! News, which has spent the past year investing heavily on Facebook Live and other distributed media environments, “Freestyle” marks an important step in monetizing a format and platform that has yet to provide a consistent revenue stream for media companies.

In March, E! News brought its daily entertainment news show “Live from E!” to Facebook Live. Today, E! News produces roughly four hours of Facebook Live content per week, including other recurring shows like “TV Therapy” and “So True or So False.” The live content averages 300,000 views per episode, said John Najarian, evp and gm of E! News.

“Having a built-in audience is a priority for us on Facebook,” Najarian said. “We want to attract as big and consistent a viewing audience as we can.”

A consistent audience certainly helps when pitching advertisers on sponsorships for Facebook Live. In addition to “Freestyle,” E! News has been selling brand and product integrations into the live streams it produces for red-carpet live streams for Hollywood award shows like the Golden Globes, Grammys and Oscars. Similarly, other publishers including Business Insider and News UK have begun to monetize on Facebook Live.

“We’re going to be wherever our consumers are, and, therefore, we want to monetize all of those opportunities,” said Laura Molen, evp of NBCUniversal’s Lifestyle and Hispanic Ad Sales Group. “Right now, we have developed a solution to help our brands connect with the content we’re distributing on Facebook within the current guidelines. Looking forward, it would be in all our best interests to develop a mutually beneficial monetization system.”

Viewership for “Freestyle” has been gradually growing from 91,000 views for the first episode to nearly 160,000 views for the most recent live broadcast. Shelley Haus, vp for brand marketing at Ulta Beauty, said the show is a “learning opportunity” for the brand, which is focused on doing more integrations and other forms of custom content rather than simple “presented by” sponsorships.

“We have talked with [E! News] about what’s next and plan to sit down with them at the end of the eight episodes to assess what worked,” said Haus. “We’re doing partnerships with the idea that we pilot first and then build off of that.”

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