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Facebook Not Getting Into Content Creation, Says IBC Keynote

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Facebook's European vice president and managing director, Joanna Shields, has laid to rest speculation that the social networking site plans to invest in original content for its 750 million worldwide users.

During her keynote speech at broadcast tradeshow IBC, Shields assuaged TV industry fears that Facebook poses a threat. Shields said:

"No... we are not going to create its own content. We enable people to do that by facilitating the ability for content to reach the audience and for content owners to work with our ad teams to monetise that relationship."

However the link between social networks and TV was inevitable and inextricable.

"I truly believe that whether it is how a show is created, experienced, or promoted, all TV will be social in the future," she predicted. "TV has given us some of the most powerful moments of our lives and it is often said that TV was the first social network. The truth is that TV is better when it is social.

"Social is about making the viewing experience better, making the discovery of new programmes better, and about making the creation of new revenue streams easier," she said. "Social plus TV represents a period of renaissance for the TV industry to define new ways of engaging audiences and telling great stories. Facebook represents the biggest opportunity the TV industry has ever faced -- the potential to tap into that global audience."

The last time Shields keynoted IBC was 12 years ago when she was CEO of interactive video company Veon.

"I tried to convince everyone that the digital revolution was here to stay. Looking back. I was more than a bit naïve. Clearly digital has transformed how content is produced, delivered, and consumed, but when we look at what has truly changed our lives and transformed industries, it's not the technology itself but rather it's what the technology enables us to do."

Facebook is a prime example, she said. Its technology and concept may be brilliant, but without the 750 million people who use it the network is irrelevant.

Her overriding message was that if Facebook's strength comes from giving people the power to share the things they care about the most, then media partners could share in that power.

"Last years mood at IBC was uncertain," she said. "The rise of social networks and the amount of time people spend online seemed like it was going to come at the expense of TV. But the interesting thing is that time online isn't coming at the expense of TV.

"It was important to me to demystify Facebook and show how media partners can use the platform to deliver great results. Every person makes Facebook their own and the same goes for a TV show or brand. It is entirely up to the TV industry to embrace this and make it their own."

To underscore the point she stated: "Facebook is not going to create its own content. We enable people to do that by facilitating the ability for content to reach the audience and for content owners to work with our ad teams to monetise that relationship.

"What we are seeing is the growth of a new medium, one that is personally unique to every individual," she explained. "It connects people to every other medium: print, radio, or TV, which is why it is unique and complementary.

"It is a form of social discovery, where technology is finally catching up with human behaviour: social discovery guided by the people whose opinions matter most to us."

The average Facebook user has 130 friends, she revealed, so when they share a message 16,900 friends of friends can be reached, or 2.1 million friends of friends of friends.

"It is word of mouth marketing done at scale. You are not simply broadcasting, but making an authentic connection with people that in turn inspires them to do the talking [for brands]."

Examples where Facebook is already working with media partners include The X Factor, which uses Facebook pages to increase audience engagement around the broadcast; real-time conversations integrated with the live broadcast of the last Super Bowl; and a social electronic program guide from Italy's Mediaset for channel Italia 2 which, when it goes live next month, will enable users to see what their friends are watching via a connected television app.

Facebook has also experimented with using credits to purchase video-on-demand content from Miramax, Universal, Warners, TF1, the BBC, and others.

"Offering your show on Facebook not only builds demand for watching the show when it is running -- it can maintain a year-round relationship with your audience even when a show is off-season," she said.

Of Facebook's 750 million users, over 250 million of them connect on mobile devices and 375 million of them return every day and spend on aggregate 700 billion minutes on the site per month.

"Much of that time is spent on sharing their experience with other people and this is growing exponentially. People are sharing twice as much content now as they did a year ago," Shields said.

She admitted that expectations were "very high" in terms of monetizing the network, "so we have to come up with ways for marketers to deliver value," but declined to give details on how that would be achieved.  Drumming up business from content owners was a clear part of her reason for keynoting at IBC.

"We want to work with you on figuring out the best way to build amazing relationships with your audience and help you make TV social again. We want to be your partner in unlocking the potential of 750 million friends."

Without referencing them directly, she also expressed concern that Facebook should stay ahead of the challenges to its business poised by Google and Apple, both of which have recently launched into social networking (Google Plus and Apple's alliance with Twitter).

"My main worry in such a fast-paced environment is to miss something. We have to be aware of businesses that have scale that can do what we do. We need to stay one step ahead and that means staying in touch with our users."

Sponsored stories, paying with Facebook credits while playing games, renting a movie, or voting for a TV show are some examples of monetization on Facebook right now.

"You see the first initiatives for e-commerce coming on Facebook, which is a very exciting development, and it is interesting to work together and see how this will develop," Shields concluded.

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