Last year, Facebook launched a new video-on-demand network called Facebook Watch—dipping their toe into the ocean currently dominated by Netflix. They have a $1 billion content budget for 2018, and $90 million of that is devoted to a news partnership with outlets like CNN, BuzzFeed, Vox and Fox News. Not all the shows are ready yet, but next week’s opening schedule is a window into the basic structure of what Facebook’s new venture to compete with cable news will look like.
Former CNN and NBC anchor Campbell Brown is running Facebook's partnership with these news sites, and her post-TV, but pre-Facebook career makes it clear which side of the political aisle she falls on. Per the New York Times:
But a year and a half into her tenure, Ms. Brown, who became a school-choice activist with close ties to conservative politics after her TV career, is emerging as a fiery negotiator for her vision of Facebook as a publishing platform, according to interviews with more than 30 people who work or who regularly interact with her. This month, Hollywood Reporter named Ms. Brown one of this year's 35 most powerful New York media figures.
And make no mistake, Facebook is indeed launching a cable news competitor, as the Times' story continued:
Once those shows get started, Ms. Brown wants to use Facebook's existing Watch product — a service introduced in 2017 as a premium product with more curation that has nonetheless been flooded with far-right conspiracy programming — to be a breaking news destination. The result would be something akin to an online competitor to cable news.
Keep that “breaking news destination” part in mind while reading through the first slate of funded news shows for Facebook Watch:
— ABC News' “On Location” [wt] is a daily news show with ABC News journalists from around the globe delivering on-the-ground reporting and the top headlines that are driving the day.
— Advance Local's “Chasing Corruption” In Alabama Media Group's Chasing Corruption's weekly series, host Ian Hoppe and the Reckon by AL.com team travel across the USA to meet some of America's toughest watchdog journalists — and the stories of conspiracy, bribery, fraud and more they've uncovered.
— ATTN:'s “Undivided ATTN:” is a weekly explainer show that breaks down the biggest issue of the week. In 3-5 minute episodes hosted by a rotating cast of social influencers, Undivided ATTN: will provide context on the stories everybody's talking about.
— CNN's “Anderson Cooper Full Circle” is a daily global brief on the world, M-F evenings featuring Anderson Cooper and a roster of guests. The interactive program will air live from Anderson's New York City newsroom in mobile-friendly vertical video.
— FOX News' “Fox News Update” will focus on up-to-the minute breaking news and the most compelling stories of the day. FNC's chief news anchor Shepard Smith will report the latest news each weekday afternoon, with Carley Shimkus updating viewers every morning. Additionally, Abby Huntsman will provide the latest headlines once each morning throughout the weekend.
— Mic's “Mic Dispatch” reveals the world as we see it: complicated, diverse and full of potential. Mic correspondents on this new, twice-weekly show go beyond the headlines to profile the underrepresented, the problem-solvers and the provocateurs.
— Quartz's “Quartz News” is a visually stunning weekly show, featuring in-depth reporting from around the world. Each episode investigates a story that's driving the global conversation. Beyond the show itself, Quartz News will cultivate its community through a companion Messenger bot experience that will give followers the opportunity to interact with the show.
— Univision's “Real America with Jorge Ramos” Award-winning journalist, anchor and author Jorge Ramos travels the country to talk to immigrants of diverse backgrounds and situations, delivering a rarely covered view of today's America from their perspective. Univision will also cover the top stories in Spanish at noon every day on Watch with “Noticiero Univision Edición Digital.”
So while it sure looks like there will be a far more diverse array of shows than you see on your regular cable news channel (and more journalism), the only “breaking news destination” on Facebook Watch is Fox News. The good news is that they have one of their only real journalists headlining the show in Shepard Smith. Carley Shimkus is the 24/7 headlines reporter for Fox News Channel, and to be honest, it's difficult to meaningfully separate her from any of the other blonde female anchors scattered across damn near every hour of Fox News. She's not an opinion show host, so that, combined with her relative obscurity, should buy her a little bit of good faith for now. Abby Huntsman is one of the hosts of Fox & Friends, so any credibility she gained before debasing herself for the President of the United States is at minimum, offset.
There's a good chance that this is something of a joint-rebranding venture on the part of Fox News and Facebook. Facebook demonstrates their inability to understand the basics of journalism damn near every day, and Fox News' entire business model is predicated upon those eligible for Medicare. Not to mention, Fox News in a catch-22 with opinion hosts like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. Advertising has been down on their shows in recent months, and according to one Fox News staffer, “The pro-Trump thing isn't working. We can't monetize DACA and the wall and that right-wing shit.” Another said “Despite all the hype on Hannity, they can't sell it.” However, Hannity's ratings are massive.
Fox News is kind of being held hostage by their craziest hosts. If you go by the revenue that Hannity and Ingraham bring in through their ratings relative to Fox News cable subscribers, they're practically money printing machines. If you go by advertisers—which is a much more descriptive measure than total cable subscribers—they're treading water at best right now. Fox News' partnership with Facebook could easily be an attempt to take their most popular and respected personality/journalist and present him to a whole new audience who has never watched Fox News outside of their grandparents' homes, all in order to be less financially reliant on hosts who marginalize themselves each and every night with their hysteria.
For those of you who just avoid all Fox News nonsense (which is the smart thing to do), Shep Smith is legit. This isn't me trying to polish a turd here. His job is to basically fact-check Sean Hannity's rabid and unhinged tirades from the night before (and to provide journalistic cover for Hannity to continue his rants on a self-described “news” channel).
So if this new Facebook venture is truly Shep Smith’s show, we may actually live in a world where Fox News on Facebook Watch becomes one of the best sources of televised news (the bar isn’t that high anyway). I hope my optimism comes to fruition, but given the Fox News brand and the conservative background of the person running Facebook’s side of this partnership (not to mention Facebook’s tarnished reputation), there is plenty of room for pessimism.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.