Measuring Facebook’s Massive Growth in Video Views

Facebook Video Viewership

Since the 2014 introduction of new auto-play video features, Facebook video view averages have been growing by leaps and bounds. Uploads are also are on the up and up as people are seeing videos flying through their timeline, triggering even more uploads.  Since June 2015, an average of 4 billion videos are watched on Facebook each day and climbing. That’s up from 3 billion views every day, which was announced in January 2015..  This is big news, especially considering that Facebook wasn’t even considered as a player in the online video world back in old days, 2013.

It seems that as Facebook transformed itself into a mobile-first company over the past few years, it is now being converted into a video-first property. It’s unclear whether video has become the dominant news-feed content type; a Facebook spokeswoman wouldn’t provide that stat. And it’s also unclear whether a year or two from now Facebook will need to pull back the number of videos in people’s feeds — as it’s done with social-gaming posts and brand posts — or whether video will solidify itself as Facebook’s primary content format.  – Facebook Users Are Posting 75% More Videos Than Last Year – Adage

Facebook came out of nowhere and is now appears to be nipping at YouTube’s heels. At least that is what the story appears to be on the surface.  4 billion views per day is what Youtube was claiming back in 2012. Youtube is still leading however, and the company claims that the number of hours people are watching on YouTube each month is up 50% year over year.  You know what they say about statistics.

What is considered a “video view”?

But if you look closer at these very generalized stats, a few questions pop into your head. What really counts as a view?  In order for a video to be considered a “view” by facebook standards, it is :03 seconds.  Youtube maintains that a view is counted at :30 seconds.  That is 10 times longer.  You can see how that may skew some numbers in Facebook’s favor.  Here is how Facebook currently labels it’s metrics:

A “video view” is defined as a view of three seconds or more and will appear for all videos, including those that come to life as people scroll through News Feed. We’ve also renamed the “video plays” metric “clicks to play video.” These register after a person has clicked to play a video and it has started. – Introducing Video Metrics – Facebook

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal quotes Google Ad Chief Sridhar Ramaswamy on this little detail:

The Google executive questioned how Facebook, which has emerged as Google’s principal rival for online ads, measures how many users watch videos. YouTube counts a view when someone watches for at least 30 seconds, while Facebook counts a view more quickly. “How many of Facebook’s video views are engaged views?” he asked. – Google Ad Chief Says Larger Phones Help With Mobile Sales, The Wall Street Journal

Industry organizations like Media Rating Council and IAB agree on an even lesser standard, 2 seconds, to count the video view.

The industry standard as developed under the leadership of the Media Rating Council (MRC) calls for desktop display ads to be considered viewable if 50% of their pixels are in view for a minimum of one second and for desktop video that standard is 50% for 2 seconds. In addition, the standard stipulates that for larger desktop ad units, 30% of pixels in view for 1 second constitutes a Viewable ad.  Custom ad units and important elements of sponsorships are not consistently measurable today. The measurement standard and the technology are still evolving. –State of Viewability Transaction 2015 – IAB

Given the fact that we have mobile devices with autoplay videos being fed in rapid succession, 2 seconds seems like a pretty relaxed standard to use when counting a view. To take an stance, you would have to compare that standard to other forms of media.  What counts as a billboard view?  What about text message ads?  “Got Milk?” just made an impression on you in less than 1 second.

The Auto-play Problem

Facebook embeds videos that auto-play directly into your news feed.  So each video plays whether you want to watch or not.  And if that video is given any sort of attention at all, you can see how easy it would be to hit the 3 second mark and counted as a view.  Youtube doesn’t have anything similar to this.  Should muted and unsolicited newsfeed videos really be counted in a comparison?

You have to give Youtube credit for not re-working the views to reflect the lower industry standard in order to level the statistical playing field.  Given the nature of video and the way storytelling works, 2 or 3 seconds is entirely too short of a span to claim as a “view”.