Here's why NBC News took Facebook's Instant Articles deal
[caption id="attachment_344901" align="alignright" width="350"] NBC News' launch story on Facebook's Instant Articles includes tilt-to-view photos, autoplay videos and an interactive map of a California almond farm. (Image credit: NBC News)[/caption]
After Facebook's Instant Articles program went live Wednesday morning, many media commentators wrote about its potential drawbacks for publishers.
Over at Fortune, Mathew Ingram called the deal a "Faustian bargain," saying it allowed the social networking giant to tighten its grip on news consumers; David Nield at Readwrite warned the program was symptomatic of the continued consolidation of the Internet; writing for The Awl, John Herrman observed that news outlets were likely to clash with Facebook by running afoul of its content standards.
But Julian March, the senior vice president of editorial and innovation at NBC News, isn't wringing his hands over Facebook, or the deal it extended to his network. That might be because publishing on the social network is nothing new for NBC News.
March says NBC News has been uploading its video content natively to the social network for several months "with great success." In April, he says, NBC banked 97 million views on Facebook's native player, and that number continues to grow.
Instant Articles, he says, represents a half-step between publishing entirely on Facebook — as NBC News and others do by uploading native video — and running content exclusively on NBC's website.
That's because of the way Instant Articles works. March says Facebook displays NBC's articles by pulling their constituent parts from the network's website through an API and rendering them in the app. Because Facebook pings NBC's URLs to do this, the network gets to count Instant Articles views in its comScore data. And, like other publishers, NBC gets analytics data from the deal in addition to ad sales opportunities.
"I'm not apprehensive about Facebook," March said. "I think alongside all the other social platforms, we have a duty in news to be where our audience expects us to be. And news is as much a destination model as it is a distribution model in digital."
NBC News is one of the nine organizations in the United States and Europe piloting the program. Other testers include The New York Times, BuzzFeed, National Geographic, The Guardian and Bild.
The program is in the early stages of its alpha phase, so there are still a few unanswered questions about the NBC's use of Instant Articles, such how readers are responding to the stories and if they'll become commonplace at the network's affiliates. Although CJR has reported that Instant Articles could be coming to local news sites in a matter of months, March says there's no plans currently in the works to roll out the partnership to the network's owned and operated stations. March said he didn't have any early traffic numbers to share, and also noted that network is still determining "the exact mechanics of how ads will work." Many of the next steps, he said, will be determined after crunching audience numbers.
"I think it would be daft for us to jump to any groundbreaking conclusions yet," March said. "But for us, this was just a fantastic opportunity to innovate in another way."