Facebook has recently been making some important changes to the way it presents and measures the success of its videos.
Those changes – such as the feature announced today that allows you to pop out a video from your news feed so you can view it as you scroll down – appear to be aimed at increasing audience engagement.
But ultimately, many of those changes are mutually incompatible and mistake the ‘view’ as an accurate measure of audience engagement rather than a proxy of it.
This means, that the changes Facebook and others have made are potentially bad news for advertisers; bad news masquerading as good.
How did we get here?
On June 29th Facebook posted an update to its developer blog in which it outlined changes to its news feed ostensibly designed to make people’s feeds more relevant.
As part of that, it noted that people who tend to interact with videos more frequently will see them pop up in the feed more often, and vice versa. However it also tweaked what it counts as ‘engagement’, stating:
“We are now taking into account more interactions with videos that we have learned indicate whether someone found that video interesting, such as choosing to turn on sound, making the video full screen, and enabling high definition.
“So if you turn the volume up or make the video full screen, we have updated News Feed to infer you liked the video and will show you similar videos higher up in your News Feed. We have found that this helps us show people more videos that they are interested in.”
That’s an approach with considerably more finesse than simply counting likes, shares or comments as engagement.
So on the face of it, the social giant is looking to build a better understanding of how its audience tends to interact with videos, and to better serve them as a result.
But it’s important not to forget that video is big business as well as an audience pleaser. For instance it’s widely accepted that video ads have significantly higher returns on investment (ROI) than comparable campaigns on other mediums.
Both Forbes and TechCrunch were predicting as far back as September that video ad revenue could well be a big part of Facebook’s revenues in the future, even before they managed to grow their daily views beyond 1 billion to its 3+ billion in March.
That might be why Facebook are taking steps to poach some of YouTube’s video creators, along with the types of digital video typically consumed on that platform, all in service of the almighty “view” metric and the revenue that comes with it.
But, as Digiday has pointed out, opinion about what advertisers counts as a view – and therefore the measurements on which the increasing video ad spend is based – is splintering. And it’s arguably this is happening because Facebook and others are trying to game the system in their favour.
For instance, Facebook counts a ‘view’ – for which it can charge – as a video played and in view for three seconds. Additionally, as Sareen Pathak reports on Digiday:
“While Facebook has introduced a new cost-per-view model for its autoplay videos and claims that over 4 billion views happen every day, each view isn’t unique. So if you watch a video twice, even if it’s the same video, it counts as two views.”
In contrast, on YouTube, a chargeable view counts as a video played for 30 seconds, and only once per viewer.
On Hulu only video ads that are watched to completion count.
So although the Interactive Advertising Bureau offers a minimum standard duration for which platforms can charge – namely that 50 percent of a video is in view for two seconds or more – the reality is that most of those platforms are already offering beyond.
There is, therefore, a huge variety across platforms. Which can make it all pretty confusing.
What can Facebook do to get ahead of accusations that its autoplay videos, embedded in a feed that can be rapidly scrolled through, don’t actually count as ‘views’ and are therefore ineligible to be charged for?
Well, they’ve introduced a new feature – currently only in beta – that allows people to pop the videos out of the news feed and keep them in view. That should solve that issue of viewability, right?
For a platform with such an ostensible focus on increasing engagement, much of its video proposition is actually bad for advertisers. The much-maligned autoplay, which Twitter also appears to be adopting, is designed specifically to get the number of ‘views’ up.
But that current definition of ‘view’ is almost arbitrary since most people’s control over what appears in their news feed is limited and few would argue that 3 seconds is genuinely enough for an advertiser to get their message across.
And the ability to pop out a video to keep it in view isn’t a solution either, because Facebook is misrepresenting a ‘view’ as true engagement rather than as a proxy of it.
By allowing users to pop the video out as they scroll Facebook are tacitly admitting that its audiences’ attention will be divided. Unless that user can operate each eye individuallly, those videos are not being given the undivided attention advertisers desire (and are arguably paying for).
As a result, the great advantage digital video has as a proposition for advertisers is being removed.