Lester Holt.

AP

  • Executives from NBC News buried Facebook – calling it “Fakebook” in its dealings with media companies – while heaping praise on Snap.
  • The news organization said that Facebook has been a “bad actor” when it comes to its actions toward the news industry.
  • ‘They don’t have any value to publishers,” said Group Chairman Andy Lack.
  • Lack wonders if the US government will put more pressure on Facebook to clean up fake news.

NBC News doesn’t think very highly of Facebook, and it isn’t holding back.

The news division’s Group Chairman Andy Lack and its SVP of Digital, Nick Ascheim were highly critical of Facebook’s relationship with the media industry at an event on Wednesday, questioning whether the social network has any real interest in the news business or dealing with the myriad problems it faces related to fake news.

The two executives expressed a growing frustration regarding working with Facebook over the years, casting doubts over whether the tech giant will ever help media companies make money. Lack said that NBC executives have even taken to calling Facebook “Fakebook.”

Ascheim said as of now, Facebook is “just a marketing vehicle. We don’t put our content there because we don’t think they value premium content the way some of our other partners do.”

“They don’t have any value to publishers,” Lack added. “That’s the dirty secret … they take all the value out [of content].”

NBC isn’t just mad about Facebook’s algorithm. It’s everything.

Ascheim noted this NBC News’s position isn’t a reaction to Facebook recent algorithm changes, which have hit media companies hard.

“We’ve taken this position with Facebook for a long time,” added Ascheim. He said that NBC News’ officials have had numerous conversations with Facebook behind the scenes regarding these issues well before the algorithm tweak. “We weren’t’ seeing any progress. We’re certainly not alone in that.”

Facebook has been under fire from many corners over its role in the 2016 Election and its inability to police fake news on its platform. And of course, the company dropped the hammer on the media world by tweaking its news feed to favor content from friends and family over news.

After living in fear of losing Facebook’s digital distribution power for years, media executives have taken to speaking out more regularly against the platform, including leaders at Vox Media, BuzzFeed, and even mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Ascheim said Wednesday that when evaluating digital distribution partners, NBC looked at three things: You need traffic, revenue or brand value.

“They were checking no boxes,” he said.

NBC News is in love with Snap

NBC said that increasingly, platforms like YouTube and Apple News are checking more of those boxes. And while Lack and Ascheim were tough on Facebook, the two executives heaped praise on Snapchat for being a strong media partner. NBC’s daily Snapchat series “Stay Tuned” now has 5 million subscribers since launching last July, the pair said.

The show is shot specifically for Snapchat, and features two hosts with little previous TV experience. “It’s off to an unbelievable start,” said Ascheim.

In February,”Stay Tuned” generated 125 million video starts, meaning that people watched at least one Snap (or roughly 10 seconds). The show reached 33 million unique viewers, Ascheim, and importantly a large number of people are watching at least three days a week. “That number has grown tremendously.”

Already, in March, the show’s on pace to “destroy those numbers,” Ascheim said. That’s in spite of some publisher complaints about the impact of Snap’s recent redesign.

Of course, it should be noted that NBCUniversal is an investor in Snap. So the company may get some preferential treatment.

Lack said that the quick, mobile-centric formats that have clicked for “Stay Tuned” could prove to be game changers in news. “I’ve been chasing millennials for a better part of a quarter century. Most of them aren’t millennials anymore. They are the most elusive [demographic for news organizations to reach].”

Yet the majority of NBC News’ Snap audience is under 25.

Moreover, Lack raved about how collaborative Snap’s team has been in both developing the show and creating an equitable business relationship – particularly compared to Facebook.

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, addresses a gathering during the Internet.org Summit in New Delhi October 9, 2014.

REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

“What’s frustrating to me about Facebook is you can’t have a relationship with them,” Lack said. “You can’t have a partnership with them. They don’t really have any interest in content in the way that we do. They are distributors. I don’t think they are good actors in the game for us as news providers or anyone quite frankly who’s providing quality content. That’s a problem across the board.”

Facebook has yet to respond to a request for comment on this story.

Facebook needs to take more responsibility, says NBC News

Ironically Facebook is suddenly looking to court news organizations to produce content for Facebook Watch. NBC executives said they’d listen to such a pitch but had doubts.

“We’re hopeful,” said Lack. “But decreasingly hopeful,” added Ascheim.

Meanwhile, Lack wants Facebook to take more responsibility. Yet there are only two things that the company seems to respond to, he said: pressure from advertisers and fear of intervention from the government. He stopped short of calling for Facebook to be regulated, but implied the company is held to a different standard.

He recalled top NBC News officials being called before Congress in 2001 following the previous year’s presidential election, when each of the broadcast networks had to backtrack from too-early calls on the extremely tight race between George Bush and Al Gore, which was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, Facebook has sent some of its technology executives to address the US government. “I haven’t seen Mark Zuckerberg or Sheryl Sandberg sit in any of those chairs,” Lack said.



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