All posts in “Media”

Facebook launches “Hunt For False News” debunk blog as fakery drops 50%

Facebook hopes detailing concrete examples of fake news it’s caught — or missed — could improve news literacy or at least prove it’s attacking the misinformation problem. Today Facebook launched “The Hunt For False News”, in which it examines viral B.S., relays the decisions of its third-party fact checkers, and explains how the story was tracked down. The first edition reveals cases where false captions were put on old videos, people were wrongfully identified as perpetrators of crimes, or real facts were massively exaggerated.

The blog’s launch comes after three recent studies showed the volume of misinformation on Facebook has dropped by half since the 2016 election, while Twitter’s volume hasn’t declined as drastically. Unfortunately, the remaining 50 percent still threatens elections, civil discourse, dissident safety, and political unity across the globe.

In one of The Hunt’s first examples, it debunks that a man who posed for a photo with one of Brazil’s senators had stabbed the presidential candidate. Facebook explains that its machine learning models identified the photo, it was proven false by Brazilian fact-checker Aos Fatos, and Facebook now automatically detects and demotes uploads of the image. In a case where it missed the mark, a false story touting NASA would pay you $100,000 to study you staying in bed for 60 days “racked up millions of views on Facebook” before fact checkers found NASA had paid out $10,000 to $17,000 in limited instances for studies in the past.

While the educational “Hunt” series is useful, it merely cherry picks random false news stories from over a wide time period. What’s more urgent, and would be more useful, would be for Facebook to apply this method to currently circulating misinformation about the most important news stories. The New York Times’ Kevin Roose recently began using Facebook’s CrowdTangle tool to highlight the top 10 recent stories by engagement about topics like the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.

If Facebook wanted to be more transparent about its successes and failures around fake news, it’s publish lists of the false stories with the highest circulation each month and then apply the Hunt’s format more explaining how they were debunked. This could help to dispel myths in societies understanding that may be propagated by the mere abundance of fake news headlines, even if users don’t click through the read them.

The red line represents the decline of Facebook engagement with “unreliable or dubious” sites

But at least all of Facebook’s efforts around information security including doubling its security staff from 10,000 to 20,000 workers, fact checks, and using News Feed algorithm changes to demote suspicious content are paying off.

  • A Stanford and NYU study found that Facebook likes, comments, shares, and reactions to links to 570 fake news sites dropped by over half since the 2016 election while engagements through Twitter continued to rise, “with the ratio of Facebook engagements to Twitter shares falling by approximately 60 percent.”
  • A University Of Michigan study coined the metric “Iffy Quotient” to assess the how much content from certain fake news sites was distributed on Facebook and Twitter. When engagement was factored in, it found Facebook’s levels had dropped to early 2016 volume that’s now 50 percent les than Twitter.
  • French newspaper Le Monde looked at engagement with 630 French websites across Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Reddit. Facebook engagement with sites dubbed “unreliable or dubious” has dropped by half since 2015.

Of course, given Twitter’s seeming paralysis on addressing misinformation and trolling, they’re not a great benchmark for Facebook to judge by. While it’s useful that Facebook is outlining ways to spot fake news, the public will have to internalize these strategies for society to make progress. That may be difficult when the truth has become incompatible with many peoples’ and politicians’ staunchly-held beliefs.

In the past, Facebook has surfaced fake news spotting tips atop the News Feed and bought full-page newspaper ads trying to disseminate them. The Hunt For Fake News would surely benefit from being embedded where the social network’s users look everyday instead of buried in its corporate blog.

Spotify’s Premium app gets a big makeover

Spotify has given its app a big makeover, with a focus on making the experience better for its paying subscribers. The company has simplified the app’s navigation by reducing the numbers of buttons and has revamped its Search page, which now incorporates elements previously found in “Browse,” like favorite genres or music to match a mood. And it’s given its Radio service a redesign as well, with the addition of new and easy-to-use Artist Radio Playlists.

The most immediately noticeable change is the app’s navigation.

Spotify has always felt a bit cluttered, with its five navigation buttons – Home, Browse, Search, Radio and My Library. The new app has chopped this down to just three buttons – Home, Search, and My Library.

Recommendations will appear on the Home page, following the update, while discovery is powered by Search.

The Search page lets you seek out artists, albums and podcasts by typing in queries, as before. But the page is also now personalized, showing your own “Top Genres” beneath the search bar – like R&B, Rock, Hip-Hop, Kids & Family – or whatever else you listen to. This is helpful because users’ tastes can change over time, or they may share their individual Spotify account with others (instead of opting for a Family plan), which can garble their recommendations.

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The “Browse” section has moved to this Search page in the redesign, and points to things like top charts, Spotify’s programmed playlists, your own personalized playlists, plus music by mood, genre, activity and more.

The Radio section got an overhaul, too.

With the update, you can search for a favorite artist or song, then immediately start listing to one of the brand-new Artist Radio playlists. These are personalized, endless streams based on your own tastes – and they’re updated regularly to stay fresh, Spotify notes.

This latter feature appears to address a recent challenge from Pandora, which tapped into its Music Genome to create dozens of personalized playlists for its users. Spotify, effectively, is turning its radio stations into personalized playlists now, too. Instead of asking users to thumbs up/down its selections, it will just create stations it knows you’ll like, based on the data it already has. These radio playlists also work offline, the company says.

The updated app for Premium users follows a redesign of the app for its free customers, announced back in April. That redesign made it easier for free users to access over a dozen playlists with songs on demand, which also included the option to skip tracks. It also reduced the number of tabs in the bottom navigation.

Spotify says the redesign for Spotify Premium is rolling out to all Premium subscribers on iOS and Android globally starting today.

Why IGTV should go premium

It’s been four months since Facebook launched IGTV, with the goal of creating a destination for longer-form Instagram videos. Is it shaping up to be a high-profile flop, or could this be the company’s next multi-billion dollar business?

IGTV, which features videos up to 60 minutes versus Instagram’s normal 60-second limit, hasn’t made much of a splash yet. Since there are no ads yet, it hasn’t made a dollar either. But, it offers Facebook the opportunity to dominate a new category of premium video, and to develop a subscription business that better aligns with high-quality content.

Facebook worked with numerous media brands and celebrities to shoot high-quality, vertical videos for IGTV’s launch on June 20, as both a dedicated app and a section within the main Instagram app. But IGTV has been quiet since. I’ve heard repeatedly in conversations with media executives that almost no one is creating content specifically for IGTV and that the audience on IGTV remains small relative to the distribution of videos on Snapchat or Facebook. Most videos on it are repurposed from a brand’s or influencer’s Snapchat account (at best) or YouTube channel (more common). Digiday heard the same feedback.

Instagram announced IGTV on June 20 as a way for users to post videos up to 1 hour long in a dedicated section of the app (and separate app).

Facebook’s goal should be to make IGTV a major property in its own right, distinct from the Instagram feed. To do that, the company should follow the concept embodied in the “IGTV” name and re-envision what television shows native to the format of an Instagram user would look like.

Its team should leverage the playbook of top TV streaming services like Netflix and Hulu in developing original series with top talent in Hollywood to anchor their own subscription service, but do in it a new format of shows produced specifically for the vertically-oriented, distraction-filled screen of a smartphone.

Mobile video is going premium

Of the 6+ hours per day that Americans spend on digital media, the majority on that is now on their phone (most of it on social and entertainment activities) and video viewing has grown with it. In addition to the decline in linear television viewing and rise of  “over-the-top” streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, we’ve seen the creation of a whole new category of video: mobile native video.

Starting at its most basic iteration with everyday users’ recordings for Snapchat Stories, Instagram Stories, and YouTube vlogs, mobile video is a very different viewing environment with a lot more competition for attention. Mobile video is watched as people are going about their day. They might commit a few minutes at a time, but not hour-long blocks, and there are distracting text messages and push notifications overlaid on the screen as they watch.

“Stories” on the major social apps have advanced vertically-oriented, mobile native videos as their own content format.

When I spoke recently with Jesús Chavez, CEO of the mobile-focused production company Vertical Networks in Los Angeles, he emphasized that successful episodic videos on mobile aren’t just normal TV clips with changes to the “packaging” (cropped for vertical, thumbnails selected to get clicks, etc.). The way episodes are written and shot has to be completely different to succeed. Chavez put it in terms of the higher “density” of mobile-native videos: packing more activity into a short time window, with faster dialogue, fewer setup shots, split screens, and other tactics.

With the growing amount of time people spend watching videos on their social apps each day—and the flood of subpar videos chasing view counts—it makes sense that they would desire a premium content option. We have seen this scenario before as ad-dependent radio gave rise to subscription satellite radio like SiriusXM and ad-dependent network TV gave rise to pay-TV channels like HBO. What that looks like in this context is a trusted service with the same high bar for riveting storytelling of popular films and TV series—and often featuring famous talent from those—but native to the vertical, smartphone environment.

If IGTV pursues this path, it would compete most directly with Quibi, the new venture that Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman are raising $2 billion to launch (and was temporarily called NewTV until their announcement at Vanity Fair’s New Establishment Summit last Wednesday). They are developing a big library of exclusive shows by iconic directors like Guillermo del Toro and Jason Blum crafted specifically for smartphones through their upcoming subscription-based app.

Quibi’s funding is coming from the world’s largest studios (Disney, Fox, Sony, Lionsgate, MGM, NBCU, Viacom, Alibaba, etc.) whose executives see substantial enough opportunity in such a platform—which they could then produce content for—to write nine-figure checks.

TechCrunch’s Josh Constine argued last year Snapchat should go in a similar “HBO of mobile” direction as well, albeit ad-supported rather than a subscription model. The company indeed seems to be stepping further in this direction with last week’s announcement of Snapchat Originals, although it has announced and then canceled original content plans before.

Snapchat announced its Snap Originals last week.

Facebook is the best positioned to win

Facebook is the best positioned to seize this opportunity, and IGTV is the vehicle for doing so. Without even considering integrations with the Facebook, Messenger, or WhatsApp apps, Facebook is starting with a base of over 1 billion monthly active users on Instagram alone. That’s an enormous audience to expose these original shows to, and an audience who don’t need to create or sign into a separate account to explore what’s playing on IGTV. Broader distribution is also a selling point for creative talent: they want their shows to be seen by large audiences.

The user data that makes Facebook rivaled only by Google in targeted advertising would give IGTV’s recommendation algorithms a distinct advantage in pushing users to the IGTV shows most relevant to their interests and most popular among their friends.

The social nature of Instagram is an advantage in driving awareness and engagement around IGTV shows: Instagram users could see when someone they follow watches or “likes” a show (pending their privacy settings). An obvious feature would be to allow users to discuss or review a show by sharing it to their main Instagram feed with a comment; their followers would see a clip or trailer then be able to click-through to the full show in IGTV with one tap.

Developing and acquiring a library of must-see, high-quality original productions is massively capital intensive—just ask Netflix about the $13 billion it’s spending this year. Targeting premium quality mobile video will be no different. That’s why Katzenberg and Whitman are raising a $2 billion war chest for Quibi and budgeting production costs of $100,000-150,000 per minute on par with top TV shows. Facebook has $42 billion in cash and equivalents on its balance sheet. It can easily outspend Quibi and Snap in financing and marketing original shows by a mix of newcomers and Hollywood icons.

Snap can’t afford (financially) to compete head-on and doesn’t have the same scale of distribution. It is at 188 million daily active users and no longer growing rapidly (up 8% over the last year but DAUs actually shrunk by 3 million last quarter). Snapchat is also a much more private interface: it doesn’t enable users to see each others’ activity like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, Spotify, and others do to encourage content discovery. Snap is more likely to create a hub for ad-supported mobile-first shows for teens and early-twentysomethings rather than rival Quibi or IGTV in creating a more broadly popular Netflix or Hulu of mobile-native shows.

It’s time to go freemium

Investing substantial capital upfront is especially necessary for a company launching a subscription tier: consumers must see enough compelling content behind the paywall from the start, and enough new content regularly added, to find an ongoing subscription worthwhile.

There is currently no monetization of IGTV. It is sitting in experimentation mode as Facebook watches how people use it. If any company can drive enough ad revenue solely from short commercials to still profit on high-cost, high-quality episodic shows on mobile, it’s Facebook. But a freemium subscription model makes more sense for IGTV. From a financial standpoint, building IGTV into its own profitable P&L while making substantial content investments likely demands more revenue than ads alone will generate.

Of equal importance is incentive alignment. Subscriptions are defined by “time well spent” rather time spent and clicks made: quality over quantity. This is the environment in which premium content of other formats has thrived too; SiriusXM as the breakout on radio, HBO on linear TV, Netflix in OTT originals. The type of content IGTV will incentivize, and the creative talent they’ll attract, will be much higher quality when the incentives are to create must-see shows that drive new subscribers than when the incentives are to create videos that optimize for views.

Could there be a “Netflix for mobile native video” with shows shot in vertical format specifically for viewing on smartphone?

The optimization for views (to drive ad revenue) have been the model that media companies creating content for Facebook have operated on for the last decade. The toxicity of this has been a top news story over the last year with Facebook acknowledging many of the issues with clickbait and sensationalism and vowing changes.

Over the years, Facebook has dragged media companies up and down with changes to its newsfeed algorithm that forced them to make dramatic changes to their content strategies (often with layoffs and restructuring). It has burned bridges with media companies in the process; especially after last January, how to reduce dependence on Facebook platforms has become a common discussion point among digital content executives. If Facebook wants to get top producers, directors, and production companies investing their time and resources in developing a new format of high-quality video series for IGTV, it needs an incentives-aligned business model they can trust to stay consistent.

Imagine a free, ad-supported tier for videos by influencers and media partners (plus select “IGTV Originals”) to draw in Instagram users, then a $3-8/month subscription tier for access to all IGTV Originals and an ad-free viewing experience. (By comparison, Quibi plans to charge a $5/month subscription with ads with the option of $8/month for its ad-free tier.)

Looking at the growth of Netflix in traditional TV streaming, a subscription-based business should be a welcome addition to Facebook’s portfolio of leading content-sharing platforms. This wouldn’t be its first expansion beyond ad revenue: the newest major division of Facebook, Oculus, generates revenue from hardware sales and a 30% cut of the revenue to VR apps in the Oculus app store (similar to Apple’s cut of iOS app revenue). Facebook is also testing a dating app which—based on the freemium business model Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, and other leading dating apps have proven to work—would be natural to add a subscription tier to.

Facebook is facing more public scrutiny (and government regulation) on data privacy and its ad targeting than ever before. Incorporating subscriptions and transaction fees as revenue streams benefits the company financially, creates a healthier alignment of incentives with users, and eases the public criticism of how Facebook is using people’s data. Facebook is already testing subscriptions to Facebook Groups and has even explored offering a subscription alternative to advertising across its core social platforms. It is quite unlikely to do the latter, but developing revenue streams beyond ads is clearly something the company’s leadership is contemplating.

The path forward

IGTV needs to make product changes if it heads in this direction. Right now videos can’t link together to form a series (i.e. one show with multiple episodes) and discoverability is very weak. Beyond seeing recent videos by those you follow, videos that are trending, and a selection of recommendations, you can only search for channels to follow (based on name). There’s no way to search for specific videos or shows, no way to browse channels or videos by topic, and no way to see what people you follow are watching.

It would be a missed opportunity not to vie for this. The upside is enormous—owning the Netflix of a new content category—while the downside is fairly minimal for a company with such a large balance sheet.

An interactive MTV Real World is coming to Facebook Watch

The world’s first hit reality show “The Real World” is being reimagined for Facebook Watch 26 years after it debuted on cable. Come Spring 2019, fans will get a chance to vote on who’ll join as the final cast member and connect with the housemates through Facebook Watch Party’s synchronized viewing chat rooms as they “stop being polite and start getting real”.

Facebook’s first truly tent-pole show for its Watch video hub could lure in viewers after a lackluster slate of mostly no-name shows launched alongside the feature in August 2017. But it’s starting to gain momentum, as 50 million people now spend at least 1 minute per month on Watch, and total Watch view time is up 14X since the start of 2018. For comparison, over 18 Snapchat Shows have over 10 million viewers per month. Users who do come to Facebook Watch spend 5X longer watching than on spontaneously discovered News Feed videos, which seems to have emboldened it to invest more in Watch content.

Facebook is hoping to outcompete YouTube Originals and Snapchat Discover’s Shows to win the mid-length social video market and the landslide of ad dollars shifting away from TV commercials.

As I wrote recently, there’s already plenty of user generated content to consume on these platforms, so the real opportunity is in super-premium shows that stand firmly apart from what litters feeds and Stories. While it’s unclear how much Facebook paid for the Real World, it likely didn’t come cheap,  but now it has arguably the highest profile show of any of the platforms.

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Facebook’s partnership with MTV and Real World-creator Bunim/Murray Productions comes as part of a slew of original video content announcements revealed today at the MIPCOM TV industry trade show.

The [Business] INSIDER original game show on Facebook Watch called Confetti will expand internationally — curiously without INSIDER’s help. Facebook tells TechCrunch it will work with local partners in international markets to create versions of the HQ Trivia-style live video game show where players compete through their phones to win cash prizes. EMEA, APAC and LATAM editions of Confetti will launch by the end of this year.

Facebook Watch will also launch The World’s Most Amazing Dog, an interactive global competition show. In partnership with The Dodo, the show will spotlight top dogs and their owners from around the world.

Now that Facebook’s ad breaks are running in 25 countries, it’s able to get serious about monetizing Watch and recouping its content investments. Facebook has been paying up front for these shows but hopes that ad breaks could wean creators off its cash and create sustainable businesses based on Watch. But with today’s Wall Street Journal report that Facebook underreported the scale of video ad view time metrics bug that inflated measurements years ago, it may face additional skepticism that Watch is worth studios’ investment.

But again, it’s the name brand of The Real World that could change Watch’s trajectory. Facebook has signed on for three different one season runs of 12 episodes of the show localized for the US, Mexico, and Thailand. The new slate of content could also make Facebook’s new Portal smart screen more attractive since Watch is built in. And with Facebook building a TV set-top box for next year, it will want premium shows worthy of bigger screens.

“The Real World made history as the world’s first original reality show and trailblazing social experiment — and we’re thrilled to reboot the show for today’s audiences — representing and amplifying the real life, real people, real places and real social tensions of each country” says Matthew Henick, Facebook’s Head of Content Planning & Strategy. It poached Henick from BuzzFeed earlier this year to bring some experienced leadership to its intersection of traditional studio content and the smallest screen.

Last week Snapchat announced 12 original shows including two produced by Bunim/Murray. Yet with the ephemeral social apps losing users as well as over $300 million per quarter, it was only able to secure new and unknown docuseries like Endless Summer and Growing Up Is A Drag.

Despite Facebook jamming the Watch tab into its main app’s navigation bar, many users have ignored it. They already get short-form clips in the News Feed, longer web shows on YouTube, and full-length series on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. It will require more big bets like The Real World to convince users that Watch is where they want to relax.

Scribd and The New York Times announce a joint $12.99 subscription

If you want to subscribe to both Scribd and The New York Times, you can now do it for a combined price of $12.99 per month — particularly impressive when you consider that a standard NYT digital subscription costs $15.99 on its own.

You sign up and pay through Scribd, but once you do, you’ll get separate logins. Those will give you full access to The Times’ website and apps, as well Scribd’s library of ebooks, audiobooks and more. (One caveat: You’ll need to be a new subscriber to both services.)

The two companies have worked together in the past, both on a student subscription and by incorporating selected Times articles into the Scribd service. This, however, looks like their biggest partnership yet.

When asked about the price, The Times’ vice president of customer experience and retention Dork Alahydoian said simply, “We felt the need to be competitive with other major services.”

He added that The Times is hoping use these kinds of bundles to find and retain new subscribers. However, it hasn’t done many of these partnerships in the past — basically, a promotion with Spotify is the only one in the United States.

“We definitely needed to make sure it was the right partner, the right audience, the right model,” Alahydoian said. In his view, Scribd was a good fit because it attracts a similar audience as The Times, namely educated readers who are “willing to pay for content.”

As for whether The Times might do more deals like this in the future, he said, “We’re always looking for the right partnership. It’s about making sure it’s an impactful relationship.”

Scribd, meanwhile, has been experimenting with subscription bundles of its own. In this case, CEO Trip Adler said he’s hoping to provide “everything you could want to read in one subscription.”

“By having such a great offering, we think we can really expand the number of people who pay for news and for books and for written content,” he added.