Facebook Puts Instant Articles Into News Feed

Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ: FB) has begun its anticipated program of including “Instant Articles” in its news feed. While some publishers believe the social network will seize their ability to reach consumers, enough have gone along with the program so that the launch has some impressive partners.

For publishers that have a need for speed, Facebook management said it can serve that:

Web articles in the Facebook app take an average of eight seconds to load, by far the slowest single content type on Facebook. Using the same technology that loads photos and videos quickly in our mobile app, Instant Articles load as much as ten times faster than standard mobile web articles, so you get to the stories you want to read instantly. Once there, new features like tilt-to-pan photos, auto-play video, embedded audio captions, and interactive maps let you explore the story in beautiful new ways.

Instant Articles is a tool for publishers to create fast, interactive articles on Facebook and was designed to give them control over their stories, brand experience and monetization opportunities.

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Monetization likely includes advertising and the sale of paid subscriptions. Publishers willing to be early adopters will find their risk is actually modest, since presumably, they can pull out of the program at any time. And Facebook will help sell advertising inventory that will add to media participant revenue:

We designed Instant Articles to give publishers control over their stories, brand experience and monetization opportunities. Publishers can sell ads in their articles and keep the revenue, or they can choose to use Facebook’s Audience Network to monetize unsold inventory. Publishers will also have the ability to track data and traffic through comScore and other analytics tools.

The sale of inventory is both a benefit and a threat. Advertisers may believe Facebook is a better way to access ad inventory of major media, taking the control of the sale process away from them. However, unsold inventory undermines media revenue.

The big media that are part of the launch include The Atlantic, NBC News, The New York Times Inc. (NYSE: NYT), BBC News, The Guardian and National Geographic. That Facebook could line up a group of such prestigious newspapers, magazines and broadcasters is a testament to the leverage the social network has with its 1.2 billion members. With the possible exception of Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOGL) News, such a broad distribution network in not available elsewhere.

If Facebook is an enemy to the future of tradition media, anxiety about the trend is not reflected among the early adopters of its news feed. Within a few weeks, that may change as media that find the program hurts their strategic interests drop out.

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