Facebook Video Views and Posts: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Facebook Video Views and Posts: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

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Last week, Beet.tv wrote a story that caught my attention: “Facebook Passes YouTube for Desktop Video” According to Gian M. Fulgoni, Co-Founder of comScore, “In the month of August, on desktop viewing, Facebook delivered about a billion more views than YouTube – which is pretty amazing.”

A few days later, Socialbakers asserted that “Content Creators Flee from YouTube, Flock to Facebook for Videos.” Data analysed by the company showed that, when it came to video publishing and marketing, social media marketers and content creators were leaving YouTube and flocking straight to Facebook.

Video Marketing 2014: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

statisticsNow, if these assertions are true, then thousands of advertisers who are using TrueView in-stream ads and more than a million YouTube Partners from over 30 countries around the world should please proceed to the nearest exit. But, these incredulous claims remind me of an equally astounding story.

According to Mark Twain, British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli once said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” So, before internet marketers and video content producers panic and rush for the exits, let’s examine what’s probably happening. In other words, let’s see if we can distinguish the signal from the noise.

YouTube and comScore Have Created a Vacuum of Information

Last week’s surprising revelations of a couple of industry trends that have been building for months have left many online video marketers in shock and awe because both YouTube and comScore have created a vacuum of information that was suddenly filled by new data from anaylists like Socialbakers.

The last time that YouTube updated its Statistics page was on May 19, 2013 when YouTube celebrated its 8th birthday. That’s we learned that “more than 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute”; “every month, more than 1 billion people come to YouTube to access news, answer questions and have a little fun”; and “millions of partners are creating content for YouTube”.

When YouTube’s 9th birthday arrived about a year later on May 29, 2014, we learned zero, zip, nada, zilch. All we got was “YouTube Birthday Karaoke Night”………………

Now, I suspected that YouTube had invited some of its favorite performers to star in a mashup of memorable musical moments from the previous nine years because someone, somewhere within Google or YouTube had also read David Ogilvy’s now classic book, Ogilvy on Advertising, which provided the following advice: “When you have nothing to say, sing it.”

Has YouTube Plateaued? Hard to Say Without the Evidence

In fact, the lack of new data from YouTube left me with the impression that the distribution platform for original content creators and advertisers large and small had plateaued. Why? Because a year after its previous update in May 2013, YouTube’s Statistics page still said, “100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute”; “more than 1 billion unique users visit YouTube each month”, and “more than a million creators from over 30 countries around the world earning money from their YouTube videos “.

Meanwhile, I remember when comScore released the March 2014 U.S. Online Video Rankings on April 18, 2014. But, without explaining why, this was the last time that the comScore Video Metrix service has released data about video content views and average engagement (minutes per viewer). This annoyed me because I’d been relying on this data to spot trends since comScore Media Metrix released the first publicly available analysis of consumer usage of online streaming video content for June 2005 back on Oct. 13, 2005. So, I was afraid that I’d been flying blind for the past six months.

Has Facebook Really Passed YouTube in Video Views?

So, I was initially shocked when I read the first paragraph of the Beet.tv interview. And I was momentarily awed by the chart from comScore which showed “Facebook vs. YouTube – Videos Viewed (Billions) on Desktop” for Americans who are 15 years old or older from June 2013 to August 2014.

comscore august 2014 facebook youtube

Then, I took a second look at the box over the chart, which said, “Because of its growing number of auto-play videos, in August Facebook surpassed YouTube in the total number of videos viewed on desktop in the U.S.” And I laughed out loud and said, “Auto-plays! Just last week, I said having “videos come to life in (your) News Feed and start playing without sound” was intrusive and unwelcome.

The Advantage of Video Auto-play for Facebook

That’s when I read the second paragraph in the Beet.tv story, where Fulgoni says, “While there’s reach advantage for auto-play, there’s an issue as to whether you’re getting good engagement. You’re getting good engagement from user-initiated (video on YouTube) by definition. If you figure how to create the video so it grabs people’s attention, you may have the benefits of high reach as well as engagement.”

No duh! When did an auto-play view become the equivalent of a user-initiated view? They are apples and oranges. And, if there are any brands or agencies that mistakenly think they are the same, then they probably don’t know the difference between hits, page views, visits, and unique visitors. Then I looked at the chart for a third time and wondered, “Desktops? Why only desktops?” Because leaving the “auto-play” setting on for Facebook videos can take a big bite out of your mobile data plan.

facebook autoplayThat’s when I read the third paragraph of Beet.tv’s story, which says, “Facebook still trails Google Sites for video views across total devices combined, according to comScore Video Metrix. But Facebook has come a long way in the last year, announcing in September it now gets a billion video views per day, with views having increased 50% from May through July of this year.” So, it appears that YouTube’s definition of “video views” was knocked dead by Facebook on Sept. 7, 2014, but no one noticed because comScore didn’t notify the next of kin until Oct. 13, 2104.

What lesson can we learn from Facebook’s culpable homicide of YouTube’s definition of a “video view”? Well, it’s actually one of Unruly’s top 10 social video trends for 2014 that I wrote about on Jan. 8, 2104:

The value of a video view will come under huge scrutiny in 2014, as more and more brands will want to know their ad is actually in view and we’ll see a growing demand for guaranteed viewability. Secondly, the main purpose of digital video will change from purely brand awareness (cited by 94.6% of US media agencies as the prime objective of their campaigns) to other metrics further down the funnel.

Have Creators Really Fled from YouTube to Facebook?

Now, let’s tackle that post in the Socialbakers blog which said, “Marketers are increasingly turning to Facebook for video content – opting away from the YouTube-first, Facebook second approach that was so common.” And let’s examine that Socialbakers chart which shows “content marketers increasingly uploading videos to Facebook directly, with a 50% increase from May through July” and let’s ask a few questions before jumping to the conclusion that video posts on Facebook “are trending to surpass YouTube by the end of the year.”

share of video posts youtube facebook socialbakers 2014

In his post, James doesn’t distinguish between the “content creators” mentioned in his headline with the “social media marketers”, “marketers”, and “content marketers” mentioned in the body of his post. This isn’t a minor quibble over terminology. As I mentioned earlier in this column, there are thousands of advertisers who are using TrueView in-stream ads, but there are more than a million YouTube Partners from over 30 countries around the world earning money from their YouTube videos.

Content Creators Receive Zero Revenue from Facebook

Earlier this summer, Yahoo was talking with some YouTube Partners (aka “content creators”) about producing video content for a new Yahoo rival to YouTube. And it’s true that many YouTube Partners have long-chafed over the standard revenue split, where YouTube/Google takes 45% of ad revenue and partners get 55%. But Facebook isn’t offering “content creators” a partner program. And the last time I checked, Facebook takes 100% of ad revenue from Premium Video ads and “content creators” get zero, zip, nada, zilch.

So, if a growing percentage of what I’d call advertisers – but James calls “marketers” – started testing Premium Video Ads on Facebook from May through July, you won’t hear me say, “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!

Facebook and the ALS #IceBucketChallenge

As I said last week, Facebook announced that new video metrics in Page Insights and Ads Reporting were “coming soon” in May 2014. So, that would be a logical time for advertisers (or marketers) to start testing videos on Facebook. But that doesn’t mean that more than a million YouTube Partners (or “content creators”) have started to “flee from YouTube” and “flock to Facebook.”  But wait, there’s more!

A month ago, Alexandria McCulloch, a Social Media Analyst at Socialbakers, wrote a blog post entitled, “5 Things to Learn from the #IceBucketChallenge.” She said, “According to Facebook, 2.4 million #IceBucketChallenge videos were shared June 1 to August 17, with more than 28 million people taking part in conversations with Posts, Comments, Likes, and Shares. The campaign evolved along the way, and ended up raising $100 million for The ALS Association in August.”

Now, that’s a hell of a success story and there are lessons to learn from it. But, riddle me this: James said that Socialbakers analyzed over 180,000 Facebook video posts across 20,000 Facebook pages. How many of the people who uploaded 2.4 million #IceBucketChallenge videos to Facebook are included in this analysis?

Now, unless you can show me some other campaigns that have been launched in September or early October that have been just as successful as the #IceBucketChallenge, or you can tell me about upcoming campaigns that will be launched in late October, November, or December that could be even more successful, then I would argue that it’s probably premature to predict that Facebook’s share of video posts will surpass YouTube’s by the end of the year.

To be clear, YouTube isn’t out of the woods yet and we should continue to watch Facebook like a hawk. But, advertisers who are using TrueView in-stream ads and YouTube Partners from over 30 countries around the world shouldn’t panic and head for the exits. As either Twain or Disraeli once said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”


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