Facebook has been making a big effort to court publishers to post stories on the social media site, and now the company is in early talks with media partners about hosting their content.
In an on-stage discussion at the Code/Media conference in Dana Point, Calif., Facebook chief product officer Chris Cox revealed that the company is looking into how to make a better experience for people who want to read content on mobile devices. “Reading news on a smartphone is still a really bad experience most of the time,” he said, noting that it is a problem “we’re trying to address.”
But he also cautioned that Facebook does not want to become a black hole for publishing content. “We don’t want to devour and suck in the Internet,” he said. “It’s not what people are asking for, frankly…. It’s about how to deliver a really good news experience on smart phones.”
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Although Facebook has been making strides to better promote media content, Cox wanted to be clear that the company will not eschew its roots as a place to connect with family and friends. “The philosophy that we have is that people should get the content that matters to them the most,” he told a crowd of technology and media insiders. “Most of that on Facebook will be connecting with friends and family. If we’re not doing a good job at that, we’re failing.”
He also admitted that a big part of the content that Facebook wants to see is news stories and videos from publishing partners. But he insisted that the company does not arbitrarily change its algorithm to promote (or downgrade) specific types of third-party content. Where that comes from is people saying, “I saw that content and I don’t want to get it,'” he added, later noting that the changes Facebook makes to its algorithms are more nuanced than deciding to turn down the effectiveness of a type of content, such as social games or so-called click bait. “There are no levers.”
Speaking specifically about content publishers, Cox noted that Facebook has worked hard to become a good partner to news organizations and other content creators. “We are working hard to be a good partner to the publishing industry,” he said. “A good partnership can make the publishing industry better and it can make Facebook better.” A big part of that is communicating more effectively when the company makes changes to its News Feed algorithm, he explained.
On the video front, Cox opened up about why the company has made its platform more friendly to video content within the last year, noting that it was something that users want to share more.
Since Facebook’s video push, a number of video publishers have noted that they see more sharing and engagement around a video than they do on YouTube. A big part of Facebook’s early video success has been the auto play feature, which means that a video plays without sound as soon as someone scrolls past it on the screen. Cox called auto play “a massive success,” adding that he’s “excited to see where it goes. We’re talking to a lot of partners about what they want and what tools they need.”
The big conversation around Facebook video has been whether it will become a true challenger to YouTube, which not only hosts videos but also shares advertising revenue with content creators. Meanwhile, Facebook does not yet allow advertisers to buy spots around its native videos. Cox said he’s still unsure about whether partners will ever make money on Facebook, but noted that he the social network playing a different role from that of YouTube. While he calls YouTube “a library” where people can go to catch up on clips, he wants Facebook to be the place where people check in throughout the day for the latest videos. He added: “We want to nail that.”