Facebook set to host content for news publishers

New York Times, BuzzFeed and National Geographic in the frame for deals to let publishers share revenues from advertising around their stories on the social network

Facebook has become a major driver of traffic to news websites in recent years, but now the social network is making a play to host some of that content on its own site, and give its publishers a share of the advertising revenues.

The New York Times reported that Facebook has been in talks with “half a dozen” news publishers over its plans, naming BuzzFeed, National Geographic and the New York Times itself as three of the likely candidates.

Its report says a trial could begin in the next few months, with news stories hosted on Facebook so that users would not have to click links to read them on external websites.

“To make the proposal more appealing to publishers, Facebook has discussed ways for publishers to make money from advertising that would run alongside the content,” claimed the article, although none of the companies concerned have spoken on the record.

The New York Times first reported Facebook’s ambitions to host news last October, in a piece by its late media writer David Carr.

“Loading publishers’ web pages on a mobile device can be maddening, slowed by advertising that goes out for auction when readers click. So while Facebook loves the content, it hates the clunky technology many publishers use for mobile,” wrote Carr.

“The social network has been eager to help publishers do a better job of servicing readers in the News Feed, including improving their approach to mobile in a variety of ways. One possibility it mentioned was for publishers to simply send pages to Facebook that would live inside the social network’s mobile app and be hosted by its servers; that way, they would load quickly with ads that Facebook sells. The revenue would be shared.”

Facebook is by no means the only internet company angling to host publishers’ stories with the promise that they’ll load faster, look better and/or make them more money from advertising.

Social app Snapchat recently launched its Discover feature, which hosts text, photo and video stories from brands including Vice, Daily Mail, Cosmopolitan and CNN, and makes money from advertising.

Another app, Flipboard, recently floated the idea of hosting news publishers’ stories on its own system, as it expanded from tablets and smartphones to the web.

“We want to be a distribution vehicle for our publishing partners, and make their content look and feel great, and load really fast, particularly on mobile devices,” chief executive Mike McCue told the Guardian in February, revealing that National Geographic is one of the company’s early partners.

“On the web we’re going to render their content for them in some ways they weren’t able to do before ... It loads faster, it looks beautiful, and they could have beautiful full-page ads in here that are way more successful at monetising than a banner ad.”

Facebook would be a formidable competitor in this area, and not just because it has 890m daily active users. The company’s news feed algorithm is an increasingly important news filter, particularly for younger “millennials”.

That means any deeper partnerships with media groups to host their stories could be controversial, with publishers that do not sign up likely to complain vociferously if Facebook’s algorithm penalises their stories as a result.


Stuart Dredge

The GuardianTramp

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