When eight seconds is too long to wait

|| April 3, 2015

The relationship between Facebook and news publishers is one of the most fascinating in the changing media world.

Facebook is a behemoth – dominating the town square in the way that news publishers once ruled in the pre-internet era.

The problem for those publishers is that they’re still not sure if they should ride the Facebook wave or continue to try to take on the social media giant.

The late New York Times media writer David Carr nailed it when he wrote that Facebook, for publishers, is “that big dog galloping toward you in the park … it’s hard to tell whether he wants to play with you or eat you”.

We may be about to find out. Facebook is considering hosting news content rather than simply directing users to articles on news sites.

Facebook’s issue is that redirecting users to news sites can take up to eight seconds – yes, eight interminably long seconds – for a page to load. Much of this has to do with the news publishers auctioning space to advertisers on the chosen page.

And Facebook correctly believes that users just can’t be bothered waiting eight seconds.

Facebook is reportedly happy to host the content and share some advertising revenue with the news publishers.

This is giving publishers plenty to think about because:

  • Facebook is the best distributor of news links in the world. Better than Google and far better than anything publishers can manage
  • News publishers are already active players in Facebook – some have hundreds of thousands of followers – but they can’t work out how to make decent money from the eyeballs they attract from the site
  • Facebook is prioritising video, which is played instantly on its news feed (no eight-second wait there)
  • Traditional publishers are watching their revenues plummet because nothing makes money like newspapers and we’re buying fewer each day.
  • In contrast, readers on mobile sites are worth very little to publishers. And most publishers now have more than half of their traffic from mobile users. It’s not a recipe for revenue.
  • Importantly, publishers would most likely lose the data insights from users if their content were hosted on Facebook. And that’s becoming vital as content revenue tumbles.

So, what will publishers do if Facebook asks to host their news content for a share of some ad revenue?

That’s the big question because news publishers across the world have a history of wishing away competitors at their own expense.

The New York Times article hinted that some publishers were discussing banding together to build a stronger revenue option for their content. Good luck with that.

Outside of the media, forward-thinking companies are having much success in engaging new audiences because they’re meeting them where they play. And Facebook is the most popular field of play. And these companies like the fact they can control their message on Facebook.

Facebook also provides the benefit of recommendations from friends – which are far more credible than recommendations from news publishers.

Should Facebook come knocking, it will be telling to see if the publishers open the door or pretend they didn’t hear the pounding.