MIPTV: Advertising, Non-Scripted Key to Facebook's TV Strategy

Matthew Henick - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of Macey J. Foronda/Buzzfeed

Taking a break from the privacy scandals engulfing the social media giant, its new head of content strategy outlines Facebook's original video plans.

Facebook may be embroiled in scandal following multiple revelations of data mining and privacy violations, but with 2.2 billion users worldwide, most, at least among the international TV executives gathered in Cannes for MIPTV, believe the social media giant is here to stay.

And those execs packed a theater Monday to hear what FB was planning when it comes to original video content.

The answer, according to Matthew Henick, the company's brand new head of content strategy and planning, is: not TV.

As Facebook ups its investment in original content, Henick said, it will be focused not on reproducing TV-style programming for the online platform, but on creating what he called “social entertainment” by combining entertainment formats with social interaction between Facebook users. “The smartphone is not a TV,” Henick said. “The phone is a social device.”

He pointed to shows like RelationsShipped, an interactive dating format akin to The Bachelor, which BuzzFeed produced for Facebook Watch; or the company's U.S. adaptation of hit Norwegian interactive drama series Skam, as examples of this TV/social media combination. Even Facebook's recent deal with Major League Baseball to carry 25 MLB games live on Facebook Watch, is heavily interactive, Henick said, comparing the experience of watching baseball on Facebook while chatting live with other users “to hanging out at a sports bar with your friend and other fans.”

While Henick didn't announce any new Facebook projects Monday, he did note that the platform would be “leaning in to ad-supported content” and not focusing on developing a pay subscription service akin to Netflix. “We want to be as open and accessible as possible,” he added, without ruling out the possibility of adding “pay funnels” for certain content on the platform. 

In terms of the kind of content, Henick said Facebook was looking at all genres — from drama to live sports — but that the platform had a special affinity for unscripted and reality series.

“Unscripted in general feels more interactive, it really fits,” he said. “I think unscripted is having its moment (on social media) at the moment.”

While Facebook would produce much of its original video content in-house, Henick gave the producers in the audience hope, saying the platform wanted to be “open enough so that anyone can make content for us and access our audience.”