Facebook's New TV Push Suggests Big Aspirations

Nicole Byer - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of MTV

Facebook has found a new friend: original programming.

The social network is nearing a deal to revive former MTV comedy Loosely Exactly Nicole and is working with American Ninja Warrior producers A. Smith & Co. on a competition series called Last State Standing.

The shows would be part of a television-quality slate to attract audiences to Facebook's video tab. Ricky Van Veen and Mina Lefevre, the executives hired to spearhead the development efforts, are said to have zeroed in on shortform and TV-length programs that reach a broad demographic as well as specific audience communities defined by shared interests or cultural affiliations.

Nicole, which had a small but devoted fan base during its first season, falls into that category. It also reunites star Nicole Byer with Lefevre, who left MTV for Facebook in February after developing the show for the cable network. Meanwhile, Last State Standing, which pits contestants from all 50 states in a competition to win $500,000, could appeal to a wider audience. 

Facebook, which announced in December that it would begin buying shows to boost its video effort, also is looking at dating shows, talk shows and other scripted series, according to sources familiar with its pitch to the creative community. In addition, the social networking giant is striking deals with digital video producers such as BuzzFeed and Vox Media to create shortform programming that would help keep the video tab stocked with fresh content.

One scripted lit agent says Facebook is "looking to spend real money" on originals. "They're not seeking to develop highbrow content; they want soapy, wide appeal because Facebook is a mass medium that most of the country is a part of," says the insider, noting the company also will work in the straight-to-series model and avoid spending on pilots.

The social network is the latest tech giant to test the waters in Hollywood. Amazon and Netflix have been producing original programming for years, now. YouTube recently began funding projects for YouTube Red and has since expanded its effort to include shows with mega-watt stars for its ad-supported product. Apple in early June launched its first television series, Planet of the Apps, for subscribers to its music streaming service. Even Twitter is buying up live programming, such as a Game of Thrones aftershow that used to air on HBO. 

For Facebook, the video push is all about finding new ways to serve more ads to its 1.9 billion monthly active users. It generated $8 billion in revenue in the first quarter on the back of the fast-growing digital ad business. But with inventory in its newsfeed reaching saturation and about 85 percent of its revenue coming from mobile advertising, Facebook is eying television's premium ad rates. Says eMarketer media analyst Paul Verna, "If you've conquered the handset, the next frontier is the living room."

A version of this story first appeared in the June 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.