January 25, 2017

Facebook Instant Articles. Snapchat Discover. Google AMP. In the last two years, publishers such as Vox Media and The Washington Post have embraced stories published on platforms that aren’t fully controlled by news organizations.

These stories, deemed “distributed content,” have spawned teams of Facebook Live producers and Snapchat Discover editors at major news organizations. What they haven’t done, according to a new report, is bring in tons of money.

Partnerships with Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Google and YouTube brought in about $7.7 million in the first half of 2016 for the 17 news organizations surveyed by the trade group Digital Content Next. That represented about 14 percent of total digital revenue for the first half of last year — a smaller piece of a larger advertising business for news organizations that also have print products to sell ads against.

Why isn’t distributed media paying huge dividends? According to the report, it’s a combination of things: Several of the offerings, such as Facebook Instant Articles and Snapchat, don’t give publishers enough flexibility with the number and type of ads. Some programs, like YouTube, prioritize their own ads over those of publishers. And others, like Twitter Amplify, haven’t yet scaled up enough.

The report lists a few pieces of guidance for newsrooms trying to figure out whether and how much distributed content to use.

  • Let bosses negotiate terms: “Concentrate negotiation at the executive level of your company management; do not leave negotiations to lower-level management and/or individual brands or businesses.”
  • Go off-platform, not off-mission: “Focus on products that leverage your core business, are replicable, get new money, and have the potential to scale.”
  • Make sure it scales up: The content should scale up to support ad-server integration, third-party measurement, management reports and data.
  • Compare to your own content: “Test and measure content consumption and monetization on third-party platforms and compare to on-site to inform monetization strategies.”
  • Make sure your newsroom structure reflects the content you’re producing: “Centralize responsibilities or use active cross-functional teams for managing third-party partnerships.”

Relationships with third-party platforms like Facebook and Snapchat are particularly tricky because they cut news organizations out of their direct relationships with consumers. In light of that downside, it’s important for newsrooms to take a hard look at whether jumping aboard a new platform boosts both the brand and the bottom line.

You can read the full report here.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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