Nine’s Lizzie Young hits out at Facebook content partnerships and says an intervention is needed

Nine’s managing director of commercial partnerships, Lizzie Young, has spoken out about the broadcaster’s partnership with Facebook which sees it create an exclusive daily news program for the social media platform’s Watch tab.

Nine’s daily news program 9 News Watch, hosted by Sylvia Jeffreys, airs at 8pm weeknights on the platform, and only gets a watch time of 20 seconds according to Young, who called the entire experiment “not meaningful”.

Young [centre] spoke out about the relationship between Facebook and broadcasters at the Inform 19 News Media event

Young said her frustration lies in hearing a lot of promotion around tech tools and the offering from the big platforms, but that these tools don’t equate to long-term, sustainable, success.

“That is the challenge and it will not be news to anybody in this room that I’m saying that,” said Young.

Young went on to say that Nine deliberately chose to not be involved with Facebook’s recent extension of the Local News Accelerator to Australia, which saw News Corp Australia, Australian Community Media and The Guardian sign on, among others, to take part in a program which seeks to train publishers on building and monetising their Facebook audiences.

“There are some where we’ve dipped our toe in the water and, as I said, they are good things to try, but they’re not sustainable and they’re not long term. Once that test and learn funding disappears, we don’t have the ability to continue with that. These are just experiments and there’s only so many you can do with the resources you’ve got. You can’t embed them in your workflows etc. We’re happy to participate in a few, but we’re probably done with what we’re going to participate in now.”

Lizzie Young Mumbrella360 2018

Young said a lot of work needs to be done before media companies will be happy with the outcome they receive from Facebook partnerships

The panel, which was titled Digital Partnerships: Digital Leaders – Transforming News Media, took place as the publishers and broadcasters were submitting their responses to the ACCC Digital Platform Report, which highlighted the lack of power media has in Australia when compared to the tech giants, with a focus on Google and Facebook. Facebook and Google have also responded to the report, primarily saying they don’t agree with all 23 recommendations laid out in it.

Facebook’s news partnerships lead Andrew Hunter responded to Young’s comments by pointing out that Facebook Watch was only launched in 2018, and that the platform is still in the early stages of working out the best way to promote and monetise long-form video content. Calling the tab an “experiment”, Hunter said Facebook has asked for both linear TV clips – which he said should be “within the workflow of a newsroom” – to be clipped up and submitted, as well as the exclusive content, as part of the test for the “appetite for high-quality news in Watch”.

“The deals that we have signed put a whole lot of high-quality news content into Watch, which is a good thing for people on Facebook, it’s a good thing for the broadcasters, and it’s a good thing for Facebook. It’s a three-way beneficial partnership,” said Hunter.

Young interrupted him to point out that the experiment is only a good thing for broadcasters if “it can be sustained long term at the appropriate monetisation”, to which Hunter pointed out the “nascent environment” that is Watch, and said that the ecosystem is still “being built” and the advertising experience is being worked on.

“We want to make sure it’s a high quality user experience where we’re not smashing people with ads and we’re not putting pre-rolls in front of people in newsfeed. Currently that means we can’t get away with as many ads as other publishers can, but we are spinning out this ecosystem for the benefit of people on Facebook and advertisers and we hope to get that to a point where, through revenue share, that is viable for broadcasters. We’re one year in, we will need more time, and that’s part of the reason we’ve done these deals,” said Hunter.

Young’s comments about the Facebook Watch experiment aren’t necessarily echoed by the other partners involved. Mumbrella spoke with Junkee, which launched The Junkee Takeaway this week, and said that it’s too early for real insight, but so far the results have been promising.

“We’ve only published three episodes of The Junkee Takeaway so far, so we don’t have enough data yet – but interestingly the insights from those videos shows that if you can hook a reader into watching just over a minute of content, then a large chunk of them will stick around to the very end even if that’s seven minutes long in the case of our first video,” said Tim Duggan, Junkee publisher.

“So our aim as we create daily video news content is going to be making that first minute as watchable as we can to hook the audience in. We’ve got a lot of varied topics coming up, from pop culture to politics, so overall we’re damn excited by experimenting until we find the right model that works best.”

Facebook is trying to bolster its Watch tab through partnerships with media companies including Nine, Seven and Junkee

Seven also reported being happy with the results of the Facebook Watch experience and told Mumbrella the broadcaster had seen good results from its daily show, The Latest.

“We’re happy the success The Latest on Facebook Watch is seeing. It’s great to finally have the opportunity to monetise our premium content on Facebook and for 7 News to reach these new audiences,” said Phil Goyen, executive producer for

According to public data on Facebook, Seven’s most-watched episode of The Latest has 1.5m views while Nine has reached 422,000 for its top video. Nine has 2m followers on Facebook and Seven has 1.7m. Public data doesn’t provide a reflection on watch time, which was Young’s primary concern, alongside monetisation.

The conversation at this week’s summit moved onto the issues raised in the ACCC Digital Platform Inquiry, particularly around the transparency of both Facebook and Google’s algorithms. The inescapable nature of the relationship between Google, Facebook and the publishers should thereby facilitate more transparency between the players, said News Corp’s Delany, because at the moment the lack of information is holding publishers back from reaching their potential with user data.

Beddoe said Google had become more transparent with its communication over the last few years, but Young pointed out the issue was the algorithm, which still isn’t public knowledge.

“There is a balance that we need to strike and if you think back to the early days of search and search engines, the more you knew about how the ranking worked, the more you could game the algorithm, and I can remember typing into content management systems, in days gone by, every possible search term to try and generate the right level of clicks. What we know now really works is good quality journalism meeting the needs of people not things that are designed to game the algorithm. There is always going to be tension in this relationship, but I would say we are becoming more transparent,” said Beddoe.

Facebook has also been working towards more transparency, said Hunter, particularly around algorithm changes, especially those that change news distribution. The platform is moving towards more of that, he claimed, and has sympathy for the impact changes have on media companies. Young debated him on the fact Facebook was transparent around the changes in 2018 which saw friends and family content prioritised on the Facebook newsfeed over news content, which Hunter claimed was discussed with publishers.

The ACCC Digital Platform Final Report was handed down in July

“But we’d like to know about it in advance. We’d also like more insights, on the Facebook Watch and news clip arrangements that we’ve got, you can only access so much data and I think between both companies there’s no question you have got great content distribution and you’ve got great data and I think transparency over sharing more of it, particularly where it’s relative to our content that we own and, in our case, that we spend a billion dollars a year in making,” said Young.

“At the end of the day it’s our IP and I think it should be open access to everything you can tell us about our content on your platform and the algorithm and how it can be monetised.”

The final take away from the session? All parties agreed the ACCC Digital Platform Inquiry had given the companies a good chance to air their grievances, and that the issues and ongoing dialogue is a long and complicated one, but ultimately, necessary.

“It’s fantasy to think that we don’t need intervention and a code of conduct between the local media publishers and the global tech players,” said Young.


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