Facebook to Start Paying for Original Shows

Mark Zuckerberg Getty H 2016
Miquel Benitez/WireImage

"Our goal is to kickstart the ecosystem," says newly hired Facebook executive Ricky Van Veen.

After years of serving as a platform for media companies to distribute their own videos, Facebook is going to start buying shows of its own.

The social network run by Mark Zuckerberg says that it is beginning to have discussions with video producers of all sizes about shows specifically for Facebook's mobile-first video environment. The effort is being led by Ricky Van Veen, the CollegeHumor co-founder who moved to Facebook over the summer to become head of global creative strategy.

Van Veen said Wednesday in a statement that the funding will be used as an effort to build out high-quality content for Facebook's new video tab, which appears right next to the newsfeed tab on the mobile app. He said he will look at a range of content, from scripted to unscripted to sports. 

"Earlier this year, we started rolling out the Video tab, a dedicated place for video on Facebook," he said. "Our goal is to kickstart an ecosystem of partner content for the tab, so we're exploring funding some seed video content, including original and licensed scripted, unscripted and sports content, that takes advantage of mobile and the social interaction unique to Facebook. Our goal is to show people what is possible on the platform and learn as we continue to work with video partners around the world." 

The talks appear to be in a preliminary stage. Facebook is not announcing which companies it is working with or what shows it is in discussions to buy. 

Earlier this year, Facebook rolled out a similar program to jump-start interest in and production of live videos. Among the companies that Facebook has paid to produce live content are BuzzFeed, The New York Times, CNN and individual celebrities like Kevin Hart and Gordon Ramsay, according to a Wall Street Journal article in June. (The Hollywood Reporter is also a Facebook Live partner.) Per that article, the deals have ranged from $3 million for BuzzFeed and NYT to a couple thousand dollars for individuals. Facebook is not disclosing the size of its budget for the shows it will begin funding. 

For years, Facebook has said that it wanted to remain an agnostic platform and would not fund content. Now, the company is justifying its push into buying programming as a means of boosting the quality of video for these new products. 

It's similar to when YouTube in 2012 introduced the original channel initiative, a $100 million investment to pair traditional Hollywood with digital media companies to create new channels that would produce higher quality videos. That program has since ended, but YouTube has continued to support video creation. The company last year introduced YouTube Originals, a division that is financing TV-like shows for its subscription streaming service, Red.