Will Facebook Become A Major Media Hub With Instant Articles?

  • Facebook will open the Instant Articles program to all publishers on April 12th.
  • Instant Articles are optimized for fast loading on mobile devices and give publishers access to a much broader audience.
  • With Instant Articles, Facebook's Audience Network will compete with Alphabet's Adsense.

Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) has announced that on April 12th, at Facebook’s F8 conference, it will open the Instant Articles program to all publishers - of any size, anywhere in the world.

In August 2015 Amigobulls reported that many top publishers, including The New York Times and National Geographic were testing Instant Articles. After April 12th, every publisher with a website and a Facebook page will be able to publish and monetize content directly on Facebook.

The Instant Articles program, launched in May 2015, allows media companies to publish stories directly to Facebook. Instant Articles, powered by the efficient Facebook platform, can substantially reduce load times, especially for mobile users, and gives publishers access to a much broader audience.

At this moment, Instant Articles are only delivered via Facebook's mobile apps for iOS and Android. Many publishers have lost advertising revenue as their audience has increasingly shifted to mobile, an area in which Facebook holds a strong position. Therefore, Facebook is focusing only on the mobile Web at this moment, with a clear mobile-first strategy in mind.

"We built Instant Articles to solve a specific problem - slow loading times on the mobile web created a problematic experience for people reading news on their phones," states Facebook's announcement. "This is a problem that impacts publishers of all sizes, especially those with audiences where low connectivity is an issue. With that in mind, our goal from the beginning was to open up Instant Articles to all publishers and we’re excited to be able to do that in a way that makes it fast and easy for all publishers to reach their audiences on Facebook."

The publishers will keep 100 percent of revenue brought in from ads that they sell directly. They will also be able to monetize unsold ad space through Facebook's Audience Network, which serves banner ads, link ads and app install ads, and keep 70 percent of the revenue generated by those ads. That seems a win-win deal which can bring more money to both publishers and Facebook.

Publishing via Facebook is one more option available to publishers, not alternative but complementary to publishing on the Web. In fact, a program policy is that every article published as an Instant Article must be posted to the publisher's website as well. Since an Instant Article is associated with an article on the publisher's website, whenever a friend or Page shares a link on Facebook, readers using the Facebook mobile apps see the Instant Article version if it's available. It seems likely that many publishers will join Facebook's program to monetize mobile views.

An important issue for publishers is how easily existing content can be converted to an optimized Instant Article format that complies with Facebook's rules and technical guidelines. Two rules for ads placement seem very reasonable: ads must be separated by a minimum of 350 words, and not exceed 15 percent of the content. Facebook has published documentation with technical and optimization guidelines, and claims that formatting Instant Articles is straightforward and can be easily integrated with a publisher's workflow and existing content management system.

"Facebook’s goal is to connect people to the stories, posts, videos or photos that matter most to them," states Facebook's announcement. "Opening up Instant Articles will allow any publisher to tell great stories, that load quickly, to people all over the world. With Instant Articles, they can do this while retaining control over the experience, their ads and their data." Facebook will offer publishers rich activity data and analytics.

The Wall Street Journal notes that the move could vastly expand Facebook’s wide variety of content, which in turn could potentially result in users spending more time on the site, making it a more attractive destination for advertisers. Some publishers that participated in the initial testing phase remain wary of becoming too dependent on Facebook, but others say that Instant Articles generate the same amount of ad revenue on a per-view basis as their own mobile sites.

Facebook's move is clearly targeted at competing with Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL) in the advertising space. 89 percent of Alphabet's revenue comes from advertising, and Google Adsense is by far the most popular advertising network. Alphabet is also launching its own accelerator for mobile pages. However, with Instant Articles, many small publishers that are using Adsense to monetize their online content are likely to switch to Facebook's Audience Network, for which the social networking giant keeps 30 percent of advertising revenue. Therefore, Instant Articles will contribute to Facebook's growth and boost Facebook stock.

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