By Alexei Oreskovic
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Beyonce fans got a big surprise at midnight on December 13, when the pop star announced her new album from out of the blue.
Just as surprising was her decision to announce the album by posting a 15-second video on Instagram, the Facebook-owned online photo-and-video sharing service.
The exclusive announcement – virtually unheard of for a recording artist of that caliber – was a coup for Facebook, which has been upstaged by younger rival Twitter Inc as the go-to online forum for celebrities, sports and news.
Potentially billions of dollars in television advertising are at stake as consumers increasingly turn to social networks to stay abreast of the latest news and entertainment. Twitter and Facebook both are wooing advertisers with video ad platforms and trying to hold off mobile communications startups like WhatsApp and SnapChat, which have lured many younger users.
Leading the Facebook charge is Dan Rose, vice president of partnerships, acquisitions chief, and architect of some of the social network’s key deals during his eight years there.
Rose maintains a low profile compared with Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, whose “Lean In” book on women in business was a cause celebre. A surfer, Rose has a reputation as calm, friendly but persistent at the 5,800-employee company.
Previously at Amazon.com, the 42-year-old Rose helped launch the Kindle reader and nail down deals with publishers.
When Facebook’s stock was beaten down in the wake of its IPO in May 2012, Rose told an all-staff meeting that Amazon plowed through the turbulence of its early years by ignoring the “noise” around it and focusing on long term goals, a person who was present at the meeting said.
His approach has helped Rose find common ground in sometimes tricky relationships. He was instrumental in three years of talks to win Apple Inc permission in 2012 for Facebook to tap directly into iPhone features like pictures, as well as a 2006 advertising pact with Microsoft Corp which a year later made a seminal investment in the young company.
Now Rose is spearheading the efforts to broaden the Facebook conversation, dominated by talk of friends and family, by tying up with celebrities, news organizations and other “content” providers.
People “like to see stuff from their friends, that’s where Facebook started and kind of where our origin is, but they also really like to see stuff from public voices,” said Rose.
“When that type of stuff shows up in people’s newsfeeds they like it, they click on it, they comment on it, they engage with it,” Rose said in an interview.
In November, Rose and Facebook product chief Chris Cox hosted a lunch at the posh Soho House club in West Hollywood with representatives of various celebrities, including Madonna, rapper Pitbull and actor Channing Tatum.
In recent months, Rose’s team has also made frequent visits to broadcasters and other media organizations, preaching the virtues of Facebook and discussing potential partnerships. Facebook may soon announce a series of tie-ups with a broadcaster around some popular television shows and sporting events, a source familiar with the matter said.
“There’s a lot of disconnect between Hollywood and the Valley on many different fronts. He plays a really important role,” said Guy Oseary, the manager for Madonna and band U2, who was at Soho House lunch.
MORE THAN JUST FRIENDS
Analysts say Facebook’s efforts to recast itself as the virtual town square for public conversations about everything from yesterday’s football game to breaking news will not be easy.
“Facebook is still the place where you see friends,” said Ben Schachter of Macquarie Research. Changing consumers’ online habits is tough, he added.
Some media and entertainment organizations, such as the ESPN television sports network, have nearly as many followers on Twitter as they do on Facebook, even though Facebook’s total audience of 1.2 billion active members is five times Twitter’s. CNN and CNBC have more followers on their Twitter accounts than on Facebook.
Twitter, known for 140-character messages, has created a system for broadcasters to show video clips and ads through tweets coordinated with what is being shown on TV. In September it struck a deal with the National Football League to show video highlights of games on Twitter.
Past efforts to nudge consumers into using Facebook’s social network in different ways have fizzled, from movie rentals to online shops by big retailers.
Facebook said the movie rentals were an effort that the film studios initiated on their own, and noted that the current focus on public content is aimed at better supporting user behavior that’s already occurring on its social network.
Facebook users posted 20 million comments and “likes” about the opening game of the National Football League season as the match unfolded.
On Thursday, Facebook took a page from Twitter and introduced a “Trending” feature, offering a personalized list of hot discussion topics.
To cozy up to the media and entertainment industry, Rose needs to demonstrate the benefits of its social network and its massive audience, something rival Twitter has proven adept at.
“I think of it kind of like nation-state relationships, for these larger companies and these larger partnerships, where you have diplomats and ambassadors,” said Rose. “The goal of those people is to find areas of mutual shared interest.”
In September, Facebook began providing broadcasters with reports detailing the conversations their shows generated on the social network. And it created special tools to help programs such as ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” incorporate public comments of Facebook users into their shows.
Rose has also turned the mergers and acquisitions team, which he runs, to the project. In December, Facebook acquired Sportstream, whose technology organizes comments that sports fans post on Facebook, making it easier for sports broadcasters to discover and use some of the real-time conversations.
Then there’s Instagram, the photo and video-sharing service that Facebook acquired for roughly $700 million last year, and which is popular among movie stars, athletes and other public figures.
Rose’s team, including his deputy for celebrity outreach Justin Osofsky, cultivated a relationship with Beyonce for months. When she proposed the album announcement on short notice, they leapt at the opportunity.
Beyonce declined to comment on the launch of the album, a secret until the Instagram video. It sold a record 1 million copies on Apple’s iTunes store in six days.
(Editing by Edwin Chan, Peter Henderson and Grant McCool)
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