Following moves by Apple and YouTube to invest in programming that competes with that of traditional networks, Facebook is reportedly the next digital heavyweight to try its hand at the scripted TV game.
According to The Wall Street Journal, which cited “people familiar with the matter,” the social media giant has been meeting with major Hollywood talent agencies and mapping out plans to fund shows at a level up to $3 million an episode. That’s on par with high-end cable originals, though Facebook is also looking at a lower-tier budget level, with shows costing in the mid-to-upper-six-figure range.
The target audience will be viewers ages 13 to 34, with a particular focus on those between 17 and 30. Shows like Freeform’s "Pretty Little Liars" or ABC’s "Scandal" and "The Bachelor" are all models. The effort could begin as early as late summer. Already in the fold are "Strangers," a relationship drama aimed at millennials that premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival, and the game show “Last State Standing.”
The deep-pocketed company is also willing to take on shows linear networks have canceled and give them a new lease on life. One such example Facebook is in talks to acquire is "Loosely, Exactly Nicole," which MTV canceled last year.
Facebook declined to comment on any specific plans. In a statement to The Wall Street Journal, Vice President of Media Partnerships Nick Grudin said, “We’re supporting a small group of partners and creators as they experiment with the kinds of shows you can build a community around—from sports to comedy to reality to gaming. We’re focused on episodic shows and helping all our partners understand what works across different verticals and topics.”
The company is telling sellers it wants to avoid shows about children and young teens as well as political dramas, news, and shows with nudity and rough language. Shows will run no more than 30 minutes and will carry ads—one point of differentiation between Facebook and digital subscription peers like Netflix and Amazon is that Facebook is promising to deliver programmers complete viewership data.
Other digital services remain purposely opaque in terms of viewing numbers, frustrating networks and the creative community. Facebook’s bet is that its massive base of 2 billion active monthly users offers an attractive opportunity, but even more appealing will be data that could lure some of the $72 billion-plus in annual TV ad spending toward its platform.
It won’t be an easy path to success, however, given how crowded the landscape is. There were 455 scripted TV shows on the air in 2016, and several digital heavyweights, notably Apple, have just begun exploring forays into the scripted game.