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Facebook's Watch Platform Eventually Will Replace Pay-TV (for Many People)

Ben Lerer of Group Nine Media Inc., who runs a collection of websites and apps probably unknown to anyone under 30, has seen the future, and it's Facebook Inc.'s (FB - Get Report) Watch.

In a conversation held at the Paley Media Center on Thursday, Oct. 26, with Facebook executive Dan Rose, Lerer expressed vindication that his sites -- Thrillist, NowThis, The Dodo and Seeker -- can get access to millions of viewers on the platform because of the quality of their work rather than simply already owning a coveted spot on the TV dial as major broadcast and cable TV networks have enjoyed for decades.

"What I love about the platform is that it's a meritocracy," Lerer said. "If you make great content, people will see it. If you make not as great content, people aren't necessarily going to see it. With traditional media, a lot of distribution was sort of granted through partnerships, through carriage rights. And now, you have this world where quality is very important, and there's more transparency to that."

Rose, who heads Facebook's expansive partnership group, said the Watch platform, which debuted in September, is the social media giant's answer to the call by video creators such as Group Nine to create a place on the site for higher-quality, episodic shows. Instead of individual pieces of user-generated content that flow through the typical user's news feed, these are episodic series that win broad followings and, by extension, sell advertising.

Lerer even mentioned that a video team from NowThis was in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, ostensibly to create a video on the city's new NFL football team. When the shootings at the Route 91 Harvest music festival occurred, though, NowThis' project evolved into a more ambitious one it's planning to release on Watch.

For Facebook, that opens a world of possibilities. For the moment, Watch is something of a cross between Alphabet Inc.'s (GOOGL - Get Report) YouTube and its news feed. There's a fair amount of reality TV fare, though Rose hinted that over time, higher-quality material will rise to the top of the platform.

"Media content has exploded, and people want to see more of it," Rose said. "As a result, publishers are creating more video, and new publishers are emerging that didn't exist before. And as we adapt to that landscape, we're talking with partners about what's working and not working, and then we make changes in the platform."

One area of some tension has come from Facebook's relationship with news publishers. Yes, they want their articles to appear on the platform, but they also want to be appropriately compensated.

When Facebook's Campbell Brown in July said the company would launch a subscription-based news product this year, David Chavern, president and chief executive of the News Media Alliance, which represents 2,000 newspapers and digital publishers in the U.S. and Canada, said he wasn't overly optimistic it would solve the problem of his members' content appearing on the site but getting little to no money for it.


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