Facebook to Launch Publisher Paywalls, Video News Section

Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Peabody; Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch
Campbell Brown, Adam Mosseri

"We are, for the first time in the history of Facebook, taking a step in trying to define what quality news looks like and try to give that a boost," said Campbell Brown, head of news partnerships.

There has been a lot of uncertainty among the media about just how much changes to Facebook's News Feed, designed to emphasize interactions between friends and family, will ultimately affect traffic to the companies that rely on the social media giant to build and grow their audiences.

Now, two of the top Facebook executives behind the changes say they are working on new tools that will help publishers establish more meaningful relationships with their readers.

On March 1, Facebook will roll out a paywall tool for its instant articles feature that will direct readers to a publisher's website after they access five stories, head of news partnerships Campbell Brown and product vp Adam Mosseri told attendees at Code Media in Huntington Beach, California, on Monday afternoon. Facebook also is working on a news section in its video tab, Watch. 

Facebook came under fire last year for its role in spreading Russian propaganda during the U.S. presidential election. In response, the social network has said that it will poll its users on their trusted news sources and also promote more local news. Meanwhile, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said that he wants to focus on meaningful interactions on the site, meaning engagement between family and friends. That move will mean that content from publishers and brands will not be as prominent in the News Feed as it previously was, which could significantly limit the traffic that publishers receive from Facebook.

"This is not us stepping back from news," Brown said of the changes. "This is us changing our relationship with publishers and emphasizing something that Facebook has never done before." 

She continued, "We are, for the first time in the history of Facebook, taking a step in trying to define what quality news looks like and try to give that a boost." 

When asked whether this means that Facebook is going to start owning its role in making editorial decisions, Brown said, "This is us having a very clear point of view."

The paywall that the social network is building will allow publishers who use Facebook's Instant Articles product to place a limit on how many articles they read via Facebook before they are directed to the publisher's website. The meter, currently being tested with a handful of publishers, is currently set at five. 

Brown seemed to imply that Facebook would not entertain the idea of paying publishers for their content, something that Rupert Murdoch recently suggested the social network should do, but she later hedged on formally taking a stance, noting, "I would never say never to anything." 

Meanwhile, adding a news section within Watch will be a change in strategy for Facebook, which has focused on entertainment videos during the platform's first six months. 

Facebook hired Brown in January of last year to help the company build its relationships with publishers and curb fake news on the platform. On Monday, she seemed to want to have an honest conversation with publishers about how the two can work together. "If someone feels that being on Facebook is not good for your business, you shouldn't be on Facebook," she said. 

Brown later acknowledged that changes to News Feed can cause constant fluctuations in publishers' businesses. "Your traffic is going to go up and down," she added, explaining that the conversation should focus on other metrics, such as how Facebook helps convert readers into subscribers.