Facebook says it’s in talks to buy its own video shows

The company says it wants to “kickstart” its video efforts

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook

Facebook, which has long relied on other people to provide it with content, is going to start paying for its own stuff, too.

Facebook is starting to talk to TV studios and other video producers about licensing shows, with the hope of boosting the social network's video efforts.

The talks, which include discussions for scripted shows, game shows and sports, are being led by Ricky Van Veen, the College Humor co-founder who joined the company earlier this year.

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The talks seem similar to Facebook's attempt to boost live video earlier this year, when it struck deals with various publishers, including Vox Media, to produce live content exclusively for the company.

Some of those livestreaming deals are for more than $1 million a year, but they're nowhere near what traditional TV networks or streaming services pay for top-tier programming. People familiar with Facebook's new talks say it seems more interested in experimenting with different formats, but hasn't committed to big-ticket investments like Netflix and Amazon has made for original shows and movies.

Here's a statement from Van Veen about his efforts:

"Earlier this year, we started rolling out the Video tab, a dedicated place for video on Facebook. 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."

Facebook's moves to acquire its own content shouldn't be a shock. As we wrote earlier this year:

"Facebook won't say this, but it's reasonable to assume that at some point Van Veen and his new boss, Facebook content VP Nick Grudin, could also decide that Facebook might want to back/invest in specific pieces of content, instead of just sending money to content makers and letting them do what they want with it."

But it's still a significant step for Facebook, which has insisted, over and over, that it is a tech company, not a media company.

Up until this year, Facebook could at least argue that it only provided a platform for other media companies and wasn't in the content business itself. But that changed earlier this year, when it started writing checks to companies that gave it livestreams, and now it's changing again as it experiments with more video.

People who have talked to Facebook about original projects say they don't believe the company has a specific funding target or program, as YouTube did when it tried to seed original content five years ago. Instead, it has seemed like an ad hoc discussion. But Facebook's public announcement that it wants to pay for stuff may signal a more formal program.

Facebook is already full of video, as it has aggressively moved into the format over the past two years. But it remains unclear how content owners will make money from the stuff they upload into Facebook.

The company doesn't allow for traditional "pre-roll" ads, which are common throughout the web, and it only recently allowed video producers to integrate advertisers into their programming via "branded content" shows. That tactic has worked well for a handful of companies, including BuzzFeed, whose "Tasty" recipe franchise has proven to be very advertiser-friendly.

But many other video producers, including most major sports leagues, have been reluctant to put their most lucrative stuff on Facebook without getting a return.

By Peter Kafka, Recode.net.

CNBC's parent NBCUniversal is an investor in Recode's parent Vox, and the companies have a content-sharing arrangement.