Facebook isn’t messing around with its original scripted programming. The social network is going for the cream of the crop.
Social media platforms don’t just exist in their communication bubbles anymore. Some of them, like Facebook, are slowly but surely finding ways to remain serious contenders for audience’s attention spans, in any way, shape or form. As a media company — or, as CEO Mark Zuckerberg likens it, “technology platform” — Facebook has dived into the realm of news, reality series and scripted programming, very much boosting the salience of the latter throughout 2017. Yesterday, Variety announced that Facebook is teaming up with Scandal star Kerry Washington to produce a drama series titled Five Points. This morning, Deadline reports that Simon Fuller‘s Skam remake has also found a home in the company.
Washington will executive produce Five Points, a 10-episode show created by Adam Giaudrone that will air on Facebook’s Watch platform. Five Points will surround the lives of several high school students living in the South Side of Chicago. Supposedly presented from different “unique” points of view, a single life-altering event in the series will draw all of them together: perspectives that are “necessary to understand the truth” of the narrative. The show has cast Hayley Kiyoko (CSI: Cyber, Insecure) and Madison Pettis (The Game Plan) thus far.
Meanwhile, Skam — originally an extremely popular teen drama in Scandinavia — ran for four seasons in its home country of Norway and focuses on the daily lives and trials of various teenagers who all attend the same prestigious high school.
Washington’s official statement about her involvement in Five Points is rather brief and frankly generic: “We are excited to have the opportunity to partner with [Indigenous Media] and Facebook in order to tell this important, thought-provoking and compelling story.” However, if it seems hard to get a feel for just how much anticipation we ought to feel about a venture like Five Points, the Skam news instead provides a little more insight into Facebook’s own investment in its Watch platform and determines its focus rather clearly. Namely, Facebook remains committed to targeting a wider social aspect, even in a quest for scripted content. Director of Video Product, Daniel Danker, elaborates this, saying:
“What’s unique here is the combination of the social experience with content creation that can bridge the connection. I’m most excited to see how that comes together with the community… We’re in for a treat as we see what happens here.”
With increasingly aggressive distribution plans by just about any streaming website, there is at least a modicum of interest in seeing where Facebook takes its original content and what kinds of stories it will choose to disseminate. As a social networking platform, Facebook already dominates screens everywhere, and their growing presence as a developer of scripted content could actually pack a punch. A website like ours isn’t so concerned with their reality series sector. But if Facebook carefully looks for narratives from the fringes of society, the platform might serve as a viable alternative to places like Netflix that are simply upping output to be the loudest receptor of the attention economy. Where companies like Facebook could flourish lies within quality over quantity…for now.
Of course, Facebook’s scripted projects are still in the development stage, and any guesses to their potential success couldn’t be accurately gauged. But Ian McKellen turned to Facebook earlier this year to distribute his LGBT-themed short film project, LGBT Heroes. Five Points is another example of the platform kickstarting a new production with a high-profile presence to lend itself a little more credence but also has potentially representative qualities in its story (one of the confirmed cast members, Kiyoko, has Japanese ancestry, for instance). A Muslim character, Sana, is a fan favorite in the original Skam series. These stories are worth telling, especially in a time when much of Hollywood is reconfiguring itself and its priorities.
Between teaser culture and the supposed ill will of Rotten Tomatoes percentages, platforms may find it difficult to remain as sustainable as something like Netflix dominating and reaping the benefits of countering the studio system. In which case, Facebook’s existing userbase really could come to its advantage, and its desire to bank on its social capabilities are promising. With 2 billion monthly users in June this year, it’s quite like the Netflix of social networks. Plus, the ability to create content alongside influential producers like Kerry Washington and Ian McKellen demonstrates a calculative selectiveness. That coupled with what we know about Facebook’s plan for creating a concentrated fandom culture may keep the social media giant in the running as a consistent, reliable distributor of content outside a well-established studio system in the future.