Facebook adds free TV shows Buffy, Angel, Firefly to redefine Watch

Facebook hasn’t had a hit show yet for its long-form video hub Watch, so it’s got a new plan: digging up some deceased cult favorites from television. First up, Facebook is making all episodes of Joss Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly free on Facebook Watch. There’ll be simultaneous viewing Watch Parties where fans can live comment together for Buffy at 3 pm PT today, Angel tomorrow at 12 pm PT, and Firefly on sunday at 12pm PT. Facebook recruited Buffy star Sarah Michelle Gellar to promote the launch.

These shows aren’t original, and they’re far from exclusive since they’re included in a Hulu subscription and are available to rent or buy on other platforms. But at least they’re not run-of-the-mill web content.Wwith Facebook’s remake of MTV’s Real World not arriving until Spring 2019, these sci-fi and horror shows are the most high-profile programs available on the free ad-supported streaming service. The hope is that fans of these shows will come get a taste of Watch, and then explore the rest of its programming.

However, Facebook downplayed this as a change is overarching strategy when I asked if it would be licensing more old TV shows. Instead, it’s trying to build a well-rounded mix of content. A Facbook spokesperson provided this statement:

“No – this doesn’t reflect a strategy shift. We’re focused on bringing content to Watch that people want to discuss and create a community around — whether that’s live sports like UEFA Champions League in Latin America, compelling shows like Sorry For Your Loss, Queen America and Sacred Lies, or even nostalgia content like Real World reboot we’re bringing to Watch next year. Buffy, Firefly and Angel are pop culture favorites with dedicated fan bases, and we’re excited for the opportunity to bring these shows back in a way that enables fans to watch and discuss together on the same platform.”

There’s no guarantee Whedon fans will flock to Watch in droves. [TechCrunch owner] Verizon tried the same thing, bringing Veronica Mars and Babylon 5 to its Go90 streaming service. That failed to move the needle and Go90 eventually shut down. Meanwhile, Watch Party’s simultaneous viewing hasn’t blossomed into a phenomenon, but perhaps bringing the feature to Messenger (which TechCrunch reports Facebook is internally testing) could more naturally spur these social consumption experiences.

Watch has made some progress sicne its lackluster August 2017 debut. 50 million people now spend at least 1 minute per month with Watch. For comparison, over 18 Snapchat Shows have over 10 million unique viewers per month. Facebook Watch users spend 5X longer watching than on clips discovered News Feed videos. But Facebook Watch really needs to pour the cash in necessary to secure a tent-pole series — its Game Of Thrones or House Of Cards. That might mesh well with its new strategy of conceding the younger audience that’s abandon Facebook in favor targeting older users, CNBC reported.

With so much free video content floating around and plenty of people already subscribing to Netflix, Hulu, and/or HBO, it’s been tough for Watch to gain traction when it’s so far outside the understood Facebook use case. Laying a bed of diverse content is a good baby step, but it needs something truly must-see if it’s going to wedge its way into our viewing habits.

from Social – TechCrunch https://techcrunch.com/2018/11/30/watch-firefly-watch-buffy-watch-angel/
via Superb Summers

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Facebook quietly hired Republican strategy firm Targeted Victory

Facebook is still reeling from the revelation that it hired an opposition research firm with close ties to the Republican party, but its relationship with Definers Public Affairs isn’t the company’s only recent contract work with deeply GOP-linked strategy firms.

According to sources familiar with the project, Facebook also contracted with Targeted Victory, described as “the GOP’s go-to technology consultant firm.” Targeted Victory worked with Facebook on the company’s Community Boost roadshow, a tour of U.S. cities meant to stimulate small business interest in Facebook as a business and ad platform. The ongoing Community Boost initiative, announced in late 2017, kicked off earlier this year with stops in cities like and Topeka, Kansas and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Facebook also worked with Targeted Victory on the company’s ad transparency efforts. Over the last year, Facebook has attempted to ward off regulation from Congress over ad disclosure, even putting forth some self-regulatory efforts to appease legislators. Specifically, it has dedicated considerable lobbying resources to slow any progress from the Honest Ads Act, a piece of legislature that would force the company to make retain copies of election ads, disclose spending and more. Targeted Victory, a digital strategy and marketing firm, is not a registered lobbyist for Facebook on any work relating to ad transparency. 

Targeted Victory

On his company biography page, Targeted Victory founder and CEO Zac Moffatt describes his experience helping companies “enhance their brand and get their message out in the current political and media environment,” mentioning Facebook, FedEx and Gillette as corporate clients. The bio page appears to be one of the only public mentions of his work with Facebook and the company was not mentioned alongside Gillette and FedEx on his Linkedin page.

TechCrunch reached out to Facebook to ask if it also contracted with equivalent left-leaning groups or other political firms it was willing to disclose. The company declined to comment on its political contract work and on the nature of its work with Targeted Victory.

In July and September of this year, Facebook hosted members of Targeted Victory for panels on election integrity and ad transparency, as well as best practices for election season. It’s unclear if Facebook disclosed its financial relationship to the company at the time.

Facebook panel

In March of 2017, a blog post by Targeted Victory mentioned that a new investment would “strengthen [Targeted Victory’s] already unmatched relationships with top teams at Facebook, Google, Twitter and Snapchat” indicating that the company had an established rapport with Facebook and other major tech companies at the time. TechCrunch contacted Targeted Victory about the nature of its work for this story but did not receive a reply.

Like Definers, Targeted Victory was founded by digital team members from Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign who formed their own companies in the election’s aftermath. As TechCrunch previously reported, Facebook’s communications team has a number of ties to Romney’s campaign and the company’s contract work with Definers arose out of those connections. Though the depth of Facebook’s work with Targeted Victory is not yet known, TechCrunch will continue to report what it learns. 

Prior to Targeted Victory, Moffatt served as the digital director on the Romney campaign, founding his company after the campaign dissolved. Before working on the campaign, Moffatt worked for the Republican National Committee. 

While the extent of Targeted Victory’s work with Facebook is not clear, Moffatt’s firm provides a range of potentially relevant services. On its website, Targeted Victory advertises “public affairs, advertising, media planning, fundraising and reputation management.” The company also offers services in online political advertising and voter targeting as dual areas of expertise. 

Moffatt’s opposition of regulation efforts targeting online political advertising is well known. In an interview with Axios last year, Moffatt criticized congressional interest in regulating political ads. “No government regulator, and very few members of the media, understand how these mediums are being leveraged by campaigns,” Moffatt said, dismissing potential regulation for tech platforms as “a knee-jerk reaction.”

Late last year, Moffatt suggested that Facebook’s efforts to self regulate could boost the social giant’s profits. Specifically, that Facebook’s decision to ask political groups to publish the ads they buy could generate even more interest in ad buys as firms see what their rivals are up to and ratchet up their spending.

Facebook’s visible political money

The world’s largest social network might be regarded as a just another liberal Silicon Valley stronghold by critics on the right, but Facebook’s financial disclosures and contract work tell a fairly different story. Facebook’s lobbying and federal political contributions in recent years depict a company with financial heft doled out to both the left and the right. Facebook’s federal lobbyists and political donations are registered in searchable public databases, but, as with any company, that data only reveals the surface layer of political relationships.

Facebook 2016 congressional contributions via OpenSecrets.org

Over the last three years, Facebook’s registered lobbying expenditures were mostly spent on large, uncontroversial bipartisan firms, a few smaller groups with specific partisan ties and a smattering of other issue-specific specialists. For example, Facebook brought on a Democratic former Senate chief of staff for lobbying related to “data security, online privacy, and elections integrity” and a firm called Capitol Tax Partners to lobby around tax reform.

Facebook PAC Contribution Summary via OpenSecrets.org

Historically, Facebook’s donations to Democratic candidates outweigh those to Republicans, though the numbers approached parity in the 2012 and 2014 election cycles. On the other hand, Facebook’s PAC, established in 2011, favored Republican candidates in three of the last four national election cycles, tipping Democratic by a margin of 1% in 2018. In 2016 Facebook’s PAC gave 44% of contributions to Democrats and 55% to Republican candidates.

At Facebook, Vice President of Global Public Policy Joel Kaplan “oversees all corporate political activity, including lobbying activities and political contributions.” A prominent Republican, Kaplan also oversees Facebook’s state level contributions, collected here, with the help of members of the company’s Public Policy, Legal and Communications departments. Kaplan made headlines in September when he sat in support of Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court nominee accused of sexual violence and later confirmed. Following the confirmation, Kaplan and his wife hosted a party for Kavanaugh.

Making amends with conservatives

It’s not clear when Facebook’s relationship with Targeted Victory began and whether Facebook has ramped up relationships with conservative consultants in recent years or held them steady.

In May 2016, Moffatt attended a high profile meeting with Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg and 15 other prominent conservatives. Facebook ostensibly organized the meeting to mend fences with Republicans who were criticizing the social giant for a perceived bias against conservatives.

“I know many conservatives don’t trust that our platform surfaces content without a political bias,” Mark Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post following the meeting. “I wanted to hear their concerns personally and have an open conversation about how we can build trust.”

After the meeting, Moffatt remarked that anyone who didn’t see Facebook’s bias against conservative voices, part of a broader perceived trend in left-leaning Silicon Valley, “is completely missing the larger picture.”

In spite of the Facebook’s apparent financial ties to some of the GOP’s most closely held strategic groups, its Republican-helmed D.C. office and its contributions to candidates on both the left and right, criticisms that Facebook operates with a left-leaning bias remain a familiar chorus.

For his part, Moffatt was cautiously optimistic following the 2016 meeting with Sandberg and Zuckerberg, noting that “he would actually commend Facebook for being the only one of the major tech groups in Silicon Valley that’s willing to have conversations like this.”

from Social – TechCrunch https://techcrunch.com/2018/11/30/facebook-targeted-victory-definers-gop/
via Superb Summers

Sheryl Sandberg knew more of Facebook’s work with Definers than she let on

Two weeks after the New York Times revealed Facebook’s controversial work with Republican opposition research firm Definers Public Affairs, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has changed her story in significant ways.

The latest revelation: Sandberg herself directed Facebook’s communications team to probe the financial ties of George Soros, left-leaning billionaire and frequent political target of the right. The new reporting cites an email between Sandberg and a Facebook senior executive that was circulated more broadly to senior comms and policy staff.

As TechCrunch has learned — and Sandberg herself alluded to in a statement — Sandberg was also looped into emails about Definers, the team that later conducted research into Soros on Facebook’s behalf. Definers was also integrated more deeply into Facebook’s communications operations than has previously been reported.

People knowledgeable of Facebook’s inner workings and those outside of the company expressed surprise at Sandberg’s choice to initially deny any knowledge of the relationship with Definers. “Mark issued an absolute denial and Sheryl followed, which surprised all of us because we knew her denial wasn’t true,” a source familiar with the firm’s work told TechCrunch.

When the Definers story broke, Mark Zuckerberg issued a swift statement denying any knowledge of the firm’s work. Sheryl Sandberg also denied any knowledge of Definers, though walked that statement back four days later when Facebook’s recently departed policy and communications head Elliot Schrage took the blame for the work.

In a statement coupled with his, Sandberg said that she initially did not remember a firm named Definers but upon review admitted that the firm’s work with Facebook was “incorporated into materials” presented to her and that the firm was referenced in “a small number of emails” she had received. Facebook’s decision to hire Definers, a corporate-facing outgrowth of the Republican America Rising PAC known for its fierce opposition research, proved to be a deeply controversial departure from Silicon Valley ethical norms.

How the Definers relationship began

As TechCrunch has learned, Definers began its work with Facebook through Facebook’s content communications team and Facebook’s Director of Policy Communications, Andrea Saul, a former colleague of Definers founder Matt Rhoades. As we previously reported, many members of Facebook’s communications team are former Republican campaign staffers and strategists with ties to the outside firm that Facebook controversially brought in to support its own internal PR efforts.

Definers began working with Facebook last July and over time the firm was integrated more deeply into Facebook’s communications workings. The firm began its work through Facebook’s content communications team and Facebook’s Director of Policy Communications, Andrea Saul, a former colleague of Definers founder Matt Rhoades.

After it was set into motion, Facebook’s relationship with Definers was mostly overseen by Andrea Saul, Tom Reynolds and Ruchika Budhraja in Menlo Park. In Washington D.C., Definers was handled by Andy Stone under Facebook’s chief lobbyist, Joel Kaplan. Kaplan, who worked in the George W. Bush administration with Definers’ founder and its president, was also in the loop due to his role as a strong in-house Republican voice among many at Facebook. Kaplan made headlines recently when he made a public show of support for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh who was accused of sexual violence.

As TechCrunch previously reported, many members of Facebook’s communications team are former Republican campaign staffers and strategists with ties to the outside firm that Facebook controversially brought in to support its own internal PR efforts. Facebook’s Tucker Bounds also has close ties to Definers through his friend Tim Miller, who helped create America Rising, the political action committee prong of the firm. His role in the relationship with Facebook, if any, is not clear.

It’s true that Definers came on board initially for more generic PR support — not oppo research per se — and that’s how the firm’s involvement was framed in an email introducing them into Facebook’s own team. According to a source who spoke with TechCrunch, “The work that they were doing initially was nonpartisan, it was media monitoring.” Definers provided Facebook with its own press lists and engaged in other more mundane day to day PR activities.

Over time, Facebook leaned more heavily on the outside firm. Definers worked closely with Facebook’s policy communications team, checking in through weekly calls. While legal firm WilmerHale prepared the Facebook CEO and COO for their time on the stand, Definers also assisted with all three Congressional hearings that brought Facebook before Congress, including Zuckerberg and Sandberg’s hearings. For Sandberg’s hearing, Definers handled the crisis PR responding to the event and the coverage around the testimony.

“Facebook consultants are on very short leashes,” a source familiar with the work told TechCrunch. “Everything that Definers shared with media was approved by a Facebook employee.” While an outside agency might have more autonomy in working with a different company, Facebook was closely involved in the firm’s work and was likely aware of all of its plans and dealings. “Definers knows where the bodies are buried,” the source told TechCrunch.

So far nothing has turned up to indicate that Zuckerberg, like Sandberg, had prior exposure to the firm’s work. Given his general disinterest in media relations, it is believable that Mark Zuckerberg had no awareness of Definers or the communications team’s deep and often out in the open ties with the external Republican communications firm. Zuckerberg is far less involved in the strategic decisions that go into the way Facebook positions itself to the outside world than Sandberg herself.

Facebook’s communications team is an infamously well-oiled machine and that machine is often put to use to protect Sandberg and promote her agenda — at times over Facebook’s own interests. If Sandberg’s latest and perhaps most surprising admission will at last strain trust in her leadership to a breaking point remains to be seen.

Know anything about this story and have something to add? Contact me at taylor.hatmaker@techcrunch.com. Secure contact for files and sensitive info: Signal 510.545.3125 or thatmaker@protonmail.com.

from Social – TechCrunch https://techcrunch.com/2018/11/30/definers-sheryl-sandberg-facebook/
via Superb Summers