Facebook wants to make TV—but like the rest of its content, it won’t be highbrow

More Buzzfeed’s watermelon experiment than HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”
More Buzzfeed’s watermelon experiment than HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”
Image: AP Photo/Noah Berger
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Facebook is making a foray into original programming with a reality series and a failed MTV comedy.

The social network, which plans to premiere two dozen shows this month, picked up a competition series from the producers of American Ninja Warrior and a scripted comedy, Loosely Exactly Nicole, that was dropped by MTV after its first season averaged just 200,000 US live and same-day viewers, The Hollywood Reporter reported.

The shows are part of Facebook’s plan to flush out its video tab with TV-quality programming that appeals to the masses as well as specific segments of its online community. The competition show, Last State Standing, is the standard crowd-pleaser, and Loosely Exactly Nicole, about a young comic who’s trying to make it in Hollywood, hits a niche. The show had a small, but dedicated, fanbase before it was cancelled.

Facebook’s two-pronged approach to originals worked for Netflix and Hulu before it. Those enterprises rounded out their early original slates with mildly established TV shows that targeted specific audiences, too. Hulu had The Mindy Project. Netflix nabbed Arrested Development and Longmire, and has since made good business of resurrecting old shows including Full House and Gilmore Girls.

Netflix and Hulu surrounded those series with acclaimed titles like House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, and, more recently, Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which earned the respect of Hollywood and firmly marked them as brands for premium originals.

Facebook is going another route.

“They’re not seeking to develop highbrow content,” one scripted literary agent told The Hollywood Reporter. “They want soapy, wide appeal because Facebook is a mass medium that most of the country is a part of.”

To start, the social media company is looking for more competition shows, talk shows, and dating series, as well as other scripted fare. And it’s willing to pay handsomely for them—reportedly six figures an episode.

Facebook’s audience has demonstrated a penchant for inane cat videos, watermelon experiments, and unboxing videos from publishers like Buzzfeed already, so this kind of lowbrow entertainment could serve the platform well.

These formats also tend to work best live, which makes sense for Facebook. It built an audience for live programming through Facebook Live before venturing into scripted originals. Now it has to translate that success to its own shows.