For years publishers, broadcasters and anyone else in the media business have wondered if Facebook could be their salvation.
The old publishing business model has crumbled. Building mass audiences with entertainment or information then selling advertising no longer delivers rivers of gold.
Some saw Facebook as an answer. Perhaps not the answer, the question is too complex for a single response. And anyway, Facebook has always been part of the problem.
Yet for a moment it looked as if the social media giant could breathe life back into the advertising-lead business model.
After all, Facebook is a mighty empire. It has greater reach and more influence than any organisation in history.
Yet it turns out the emperor has no clothes. Well, fewer clothes.
The Wall Street Journal reports Facebook has misreported its viewing figures for the past two years.
Advertisers have been given numbers that overestimate the amount of time Facebook users watch video by between 60 and 80 percent. This comes after the social media giant talked about the rapid growth in its video numbers.
There’s a growing fear among advertisers that Facebook and Google hide too much of this kind of information. That’s ironic, because one reason advertisers tell traditional publishers they prefer online media is ‘accountability’.
This isn’t the only bad news Facebook has for traditional publishers. In June there was an algorithm change which saw Facebook prioritise material from human accounts while decreasing the number of posts users would see from media companies.
Those publishers who depend on Facebook to deliver readers get less traffic as a result.
Many publishers feel they have no choice but to throw in their lot with Facebook. After all, it is the largest source of traffic for most big media companies. And Facebook has consistently pushed itself to publishers in a bid to fill its pages with their, free-to-Facebook, material.
Yet Facebook has proved a fickle and unsympathetic partner. Its relationship with traditional media is asymmetric.
It’s not clear if Facebook’s recent misreporting was deliberate or accidental. The difference doesn’t matter much to publishers, either way they suffer.
Facebook’s business is all about building compelling services that win large audiences. It then sells that attention to advertisers. Google is the same.
In many respects both are following the traditional media-advertising model, although there are huge differences of scale and neither invests heavily in producing original material. Instead they let other people do the heavy lifting.
You can see this as a parasitic way of making money. Despite all the goody-two-shoes rhetoric about extending the reach of the internet into the poorer areas of the world or bringing people together, the pair are vast empires that care little for what goes on down at the grass-roots level.
Facebook is not the answer to publishers’ prayers, it is yet another nail in their coffin.