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Week In Review: Facebook TV is Happening; CBS is Single Again


1. Facebook TV Is Happening

Allow us to gloat for a minute for predicting this more than a year ago. Even if it’s not that big a surprise.

Okay, thanks. Now on to the news: Facebook announced that its team, lead by College Humor founder Rick Van Veen, is going to go out and buy up some original content: scripted series, game shows and sporting events.

It’s not clear yet what format those programs will take—our guess is that they’ll be “mid-form” e.g. somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes— long enough to tell a story, but short enough to keep Facebook users from abandoning the app (and the ads on the app) for long periods. Like Facebook Live, viewers will likely be able to “cast” the shows to their TVs via Chromecast.

Why It Matters

TV networks have long had a love/hate relationship with Facebook. On the one hand, they love the data that the social network can provide them around their viewers, right down to the individual show level. OTOH, they knew this day would come, that Facebook would take all that data and use it against them. (We knew it too— did we mention that already?)

This isn’t war though. At least not yet. Facebook isn’t launching a full-on network, but rather, a handful of shows. And since it’s likely those shows won’t be as long as or as high production value as what’s on network TV, Facebook can continue to claim that they’re not really the competition.

There is some truth to this too—Facebook is currently running a test with A+E and Tubi that lets its Facebook Ad Network (FAN) fuel addressable advertising on Roku and AppleTV. That’s something the networks have wanted to do for a while and it allows them to bypass the MVPDs, but they still have to be wondering if this project is just a test so that Facebook can learn how best to run addressable advertising on its own TV shows.

One final point: like its Silicon Valley brethren and many other newcomers to the video space, Facebook had previously thrown engineers and others without any actual entertainment industry experience at its TV projects. That’s a bad move that results in things like “Scare PewDiePie.” So putting VanVeen, who founded the commercially successful CollegeHumor site, in charge of content acquisition is a smart move. Because you need someone who gets it, someone who understands what’s going to appeal to a mass audience, and with 1.8 billion users, it doesn’t get more mass than Facebook.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re a TV network, don’t freak out just yet. Facebook TV is likely going to be short(ish) form and people will watch it in addition to your shows, not instead of them. That said, think about co-producing a show with Facebook. Because you’re probably not going to beat them.

If you’re an MVPD, you’ll want to see what you can do about getting Facebook TV onto your VOD platform and letting people watch it with zero ratings on mobile. Because the more you can associate your brand with Facebook’s, the better—people still very much like Facebook.

And if you’re an advertiser, Facebook TV is going to be able to give you very targeted audiences and the ability to track your results. It’s well worth investing some money into the new platform, just to understand its pros and cons.


2. CBS Is Single Again

Just when it looked like CBS and Viacom were going to get hitched again (they were briefly married back in the mid ‘00s) National Amusements, the Redstone Family-owned parent company of both network groups, called off the deal.

No real reason was ever given and many industry observers felt that the deal fell apart because CBS President Les Moonves did not want to take on the job of reviving Viacom, a job that had a high risk of failure.

Why It Matters

CBS is now available to anyone who might want to partner with them. They are an attractive partner as they are successful and don’t come with a whole pack of marginal networks— Showtime, CBS’s big investment, is doing well and is in a good place, as premium cable is still quite popular and Showtime is well positioned for international expansion.

Viacom, OTOH, is a candidate for a major overhaul. They have a lot of VH1 and MTV-branded networks that need to be rethought and/or given a reason to exist. Viacom going under would be bad for the industry as a whole and so it’s in everyone’s best interest to hope they succeed.  Clearly some radical steps are needed and that can be a real opportunity for someone to make their mark on the industry.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re a network, be glad you’re not Viacom, but pay attention to what they’re up to: there’s a whole lot of room for innovation in trying to save their networks and someone brave could do something very interesting.

If you’re an MVPD, you might want to work with Viacom to create the forward-thinking solutions referenced above. And you might also want to buy CBS.

If you’re an advertiser, just sit back and enjoy the show.