November 4, 2015 7:24 pm

Facebook links with media groups to launch news app

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Some of the media organisations which have struck deals with Facebook and Apple to provide digital news in new formats©FT; Facebook

Facebook is preparing its latest push into news with a new standalone app called Notify that is scheduled to launch next week, with content from dozens of media partners including Vogue, the Washington Post and CBS.

The standalone app will alert users to new stories from professional media outlets as Facebook squares up against Snapchat and Twitter in a battle for mobile news, raising the stakes for media and publishing companies trying to reach the smartphone generation.

It follows a positive response from publishers and readers to Facebook’s Instant Articles, which embed stories in its mobile app. In a sign of its growing confidence in news distribution, two weeks ago Facebook launched Instant Articles to all iPhone users after months of testing the service. Thousands of articles are pushed out every day to its vast mobile audience, with a promise to publishers that faster load times will increase readership and engagement.

Notify, Facebook’s follow-up to Instant Articles, will be made available as a standalone app next week, according to people familiar with its plans. It will feature content from a range of print, digital and video companies, including Vogue, Mashable, CNN and the Washington Post. CBS, Comedy Central and Billboard magazine are also involved.

After reports of early testing for Notify emerged over the summer, Facebook is now giving the go-ahead to a full launch this week. Facebook declined to comment.

The social network has built a dominant position in mobile advertising, due to the success of the social network’s mobile apps. Mobile ad revenue grew 72 per cent year on year to $3.3bn in its third quarter, Facebook said on Wednesday, and now makes up more than three quarters of the group’s ad revenue.

Its renewed push into mobile news reflects a big, global shift in media consumption patterns. Mobile use accounts for 24 per cent of US media consumption time but only 8 per cent of advertising spending, according to Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, the private equity firm. It estimates that this gap in the US is equivalent to a $25bn opportunity.

Facebook is hoping to fend off a challenge in this growing market from its smaller rivals in social networking, Twitter and Snapchat. Apple has also shown renewed interest in the sector with September’s launch of its new News aggregator app. Google is working with more than 30 publishers on an initiative called Accelerated Mobile Pages.

The launch of Snapchat’s Discover service in January woke up media companies to the potential of mobile video. Companies involved in the service, including Vice and CNN, were able to charge higher rates for ads that were viewed on the service than for traditional digital video placements.

May’s introduction of Instant Articles gave publishers including BuzzFeed, the New York Times and the Washington Post a new way to embed stories directly into Facebook’s news feed. Stories appear faster than if users click a link to media companies’ own websites. Publishers can sell ads inside the content themselves, keeping all of the revenue, or let Facebook do so, sharing 30 per cent of the income with the social network.

Notify’s debut follows last month’s arrival of Twitter’s new Moments service. A team of editors from both Twitter and publisher partners combines tweets and videos from reporters and regular users of its mobile app into news stories.

Facebook has seen huge success in attracting users to its core smartphone apps, including Messenger. In its June quarter, it said monthly active users on mobile had leapt 23 per cent in the past year to 1.3bn. More than three quarters of its advertising revenue comes from mobile devices.

But other attempts at standalone apps have not always been so successful, particularly those aimed at luring younger users over from Snapchat. Its first attempt at a Snapchat-style messaging service, Poke, was scrapped and last year’s Slingshot, a standalone video chat app, has also failed to gain substantial numbers of users.  

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