Facebook, Snap Flex Video Muscles at Cannes Global TV Gathering

The longest line at this year’s global TV and digital content conference in Cannes formed for a keynote from a company that until a few weeks ago didn’t do television. 

Packing out the Grand Palais on the shores of the French Riviera, producers and media executives heard Facebook Inc. plant its vision for on-screen entertainment. Mark Zuckerberg’s executives described a future where social-media feedback shapes story-lines, viewers interact live with shows and mini-episodes draw viewers to mobile screens.

“Video is absolutely exploding on Facebook,” said Daniel Danker, director of video product at the tech giant. “The goal of more and more people opening the app is to watch video.”

David Zaslav

Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

The push into TV-style shows for mobiles by Facebook and Snap Inc. is the latest attempt to get users to spend more time on their platforms, boosting advertising revenue. It’s both an opportunity and a challenge for traditional media companies, said David Zaslav, chief executive officer of Discovery Communications Inc.

“There is this threat to all of us as to whether they’re friend or foe,” Zaslav said. “So far they’re more friend.”

As if to cement that video friendship, Discovery announced a deal with Snap to give Snapchatters behind-the-scenes clips and curated stories from the upcoming Olympic Winter Games, for which Discovery owns the rights. Snap also revealed a partnership with NBCUniversal, which invested $500 million in the startup’s initial public offering, to make scripted programs for Snapchat. Given users rapidly flick through the app, shows on Snap should be fast-paced and conversational, said Sean Mills, the company’s head of original content.

Facebook this week shed more light on its ambitions for its ‘Watch’ product, a section of the social-network where users can follow, share and discuss original shows. After launching in the U.S. in August, Facebook is looking to roll-out the feature internationally, Danker said. The concern for old-school media players is whether Facebook might follow the likes of Netflix Inc. and invest significantly in producing its own shows and threaten to draw viewers away from traditional TV.

“We’re very early, we’re still figuring it out,” Ricky Van Veen, Facebook’s head of global creative strategy, said when asked if that was the company’s plan. “I’m always leaning towards the creator and putting the focus on them because at the end of the day our goal is to amplify those voices.”

Snap’s Mills also downplayed the threat it poses to the old media guard, stressing that the company is looking to forge further partnerships.

“We think mobile video is a great complement to television,” Mills said. “We don’t see it as a competitor.”

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