The Rundown: Publishing in a post-Facebook world

In this week’s Rundown, publishers of all stripes are coming to grips with Facebook’s major news feed changes. But in typical Facebook fashion, it’s left publishers with more questions than answers, and publishers are wondering how they’ll plug the Facebook gap.

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Publishers have Facebook questions
When Facebook confirmed it would deprioritize news in its news feed last week, it tried to assure publishers that reputable content would still get surfaced. But its lack of precision has left the door wide open for questions and speculation. One publisher I spoke with wonders if the outlet will get hammered by Facebook because it’s a heavy poster, and its posts vary in their performance. Will Facebook make up for decreased reach by increasing the CPMs publishers get from video and branded content in the feed? Will publishers with a good reputation — however that’s defined by Facebook — make up for a potential lack of engagement on their news articles? And how will Facebook ensure that hoax and polarizing content that tends to be commented on and shared won’t be rewarded over legitimate news, as its notorious news feed experiment overseas showed? For now, with Facebook giving only vague statements about how the change will affect publishers, publishers have more questions than answers. — Lucia Moses

Diversifying from Facebook will be hard
The news feed change is a stark reminder of the danger of being overly reliant on Facebook for traffic. For publishers, diversifying traffic sources is more important than ever, but it’s easier said than done. There aren’t a lot of efficient, large-scale alternatives. Facebook is matched only by Google in its size, and getting traction on Google is hard for newer publishers that don’t have the store of content and established brands that Google favors. A lot of publishers are shifting Facebook pages to groups, where they’re getting great engagement, but the reach isn’t anywhere near what you can get in the news feed. And Facebook is still where a lot of the people are. People have (with publishers’ help) been trained to find news on Facebook, and they’re not going to suddenly start going directly to publishers’ sites just because Facebook turns off the tap. — Lucia Moses

UK publishers are in the dark
While Facebook’s news feed changes were somewhat expected, they still came as a shock to many U.K. publishers. Many found out from news coverage or U.S. colleagues, rather than proactive outreach from the platform’s U.K. media partnerships team as they might have hoped. “I’d still be waiting to get updated if I purely relied on Facebook’s U.K. team,” said one publisher.

Aside from the question of scale and resources, this could be because Facebook’s U.K. team doesn’t even have the information publishers want — in which case, Facebook’s empty talk of improving partnerships with the media world smarts even more. “It makes you feel like publisher relations is pretty low on the totem pole,” the publisher added. — Lucinda Southern

Entertainment studios aren’t selling Facebook their best stuff
Facebook has been aggressive about funding video shows for Watch. In 2018, the company’s focus is funding more long-form shows with bigger budgets, and wherever applicable, attaching celebrities and other big-name talent either on camera, behind the scenes or both. (Take, for instance, its upcoming “Five Points” scripted drama produced by actress Kerry Washington.)

But outside of a few instances, Los Angeles-based entertainment studios are not pitching Facebook their best projects, according to multiple executives who spoke to me during CES last week. Money is not entirely the issue here, as Facebook is willing to cut big checks; the hesitancy mostly comes down to uncertainty and skepticism around the future prospects of Watch itself. Talent wants to be seen and heard, and even though Facebook is a big name, there’s no guarantee yet that these shows will capture huge audiences, one studio exec said.

That doesn’t mean these video makers won’t pitch and sell shows to Facebook; it’s that the high-profile projects are still going to Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and TV — no matter how badly Facebook wants its own “Scandal.” — Sahil Patel

Mediation can be good business
One silver lining of the ongoing transparency fallout has been the increased business for so-called management consultancies. Even as consultants add design, user experience and customer experience projects to their repertoires, it’s in media that they stand to make the most impact. Most consultancy agency heads I talk to are vehement that they, at least on the surface, won’t pull a GroupM and take over media-agency buying — it’s too commoditized, and frankly, it’s not worth it.

But they can make an impact in other places. At Accenture Interactive, clients have been asking for help in examining how they buy advertising and whether it’s working. Deloitte already does media-mix modeling, planning and budgeting. But it’s PwC I’m most interested in.

John Swadener, a lead partner for PwC’s digital services arm, told me this week that the audit team inside the wider company, which looks for, among other things, evidence of kickbacks, rebates or any other shady business with agency partners and vendors, is often able to pay forward that opportunity to Swadener’s team. The team can then pitch that brand to help it with its media-buying approach or even help it set up its in-house buying functions. That “combined offering” — audit meeting agency — is growing, said Swadener. “Most probably, nobody is doing anything purposefully wrong when something incorrect happens on the media side of the house,” said Swadener. “Let’s figure out whether it’s a marketing investment or a mediation issue.” — Shareen Pathak

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