Anthology, the branded video initiative announced by Facebook on April 23, presents a potentially significant opportunity for mid-sized publishers that can align internal resources to create engaging video content.

The programme’s stated goal is to create better Facebook video advertisements by teaming up with marketers and publishers.

The social network is partnering with a range of publishers in a pilot programme to create branded video, which can then be distributed as paid advertising across its service. Facebook and its approved partners will join forces to sell the video packages to marketers and agencies.

The current list of partners includes The Onion, Vice, and Funny or Die.

According to Facebook’s own blog post in announcing the programme, “Anthology is equal parts art and science, pairing publisher creativity with Facebook advertising insights to create custom campaigns that meet brands’ business goals. The programme gathers a number of leading publishers to lend brands their creativity, storytelling expertise, and video production know-how.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook is seeking minimum commitments of US$2 million per campaign. This would include the cost of production incurred by the partner and promotion through Facebook ads. The revenue share on such deals would be 50/50.

Anthology is the second phase of the social network’s aggressive foray to grab its share of the fast-growing video ad market.

Phase one was initiated last year when Facebook began auto-starting video within news feeds. While the move was controversial at the outset, critics have had little traction in churning a backlash. The key to Facebook’s long-term success, however, will be in the quality of the videos posted.

While users posting videos of their kid’s first bike ride or cats playing the piano appear to have found a willing audience, it’s in the advertising space that auto-starting video will prove a nuisance.

So why not tear a page from BuzzFeed and create video ads that are engaging and entertaining rather than purely commercial? Or as TechCrunch summarised the strategy: “The better Facebook’s video ads are, the less people will hate them and the more of them Facebook can show.”

Unlike BuzzFeed, however, Facebook does not create content and is not in the business of hiring top-line video programmers to churn out potentially viral content. But it has become very proficient at amplifying content from publishers.

Ostensibly, Facebook will expand partnerships to qualified publishers. These publishers will need to demonstrate an expertise in executing branded content. The price tag will also need to be brought down if the social network rolls the programme out to local and niche opportunities.

The opportunity is significant. Publishers around the world have become very good at creating news coverage on video and several are creating lifestyle programming including cooking, gardening, and decor shows, which align with the traditional verticals of newspapers.

While these videos for the most part are not as inherently entertaining as that of BuzzFeed and Funny or Die, the production values can be equaled. And this kind of content can be very engaging to local and niche audiences.

Specialty broadcast networks have been mining this kind of content for decades and integrating brands in all kinds of ways.

This is the kind of programming that has many natural brand partners. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult for newspapers to drive sufficient audiences to make marketers prick up their ears.

Distribution on Facebook changes that narrative. Facebook brings broadcast-level audiences to video content. It allows newspapers to compete in a completely different arena.

The biggest challenge to news organisations is that currently nearly all the action in video production is happening in the newsroom. What Facebook’s current crop of partners brings to the table is purely commercial content led by brand partners.

We know Facebook loves local and niche audiences. The question publishers need to now ask is can they develop the in-house expertise to create and sell branded programming outside of what is being done by the newsroom?