Facebook First Needs To Fix These 2 Major Problems To Compete With YouTube

Facebook needs to resolve two major problems - watch time and freebooting of videos, if it really wants to compete with YouTube

With the increasing shift towards video content, Facebook has been locking horns with YouTube which has been thriving on a market worth $200-$400 billion. The world’s largest social network wants to gain the confidence of content creators and advertisers to whom it can not only give reach but ROI too.

According to Facebook, on average, more than 50% of people who come back to Facebook every day in the US watch at least one video daily and 76% of people in the US who use Facebook say they tend to discover the videos they watch on Facebook.  Additionally, the amount of video globally from people and brands in News Feed has increased 3.6x year-over-year.

These numbers got a huge boost in the first quarter of 2015 when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the social network is now serving more than 4 billion video views a day. That was up a cool billion from January and quadrupled the daily views reported in September.

Facebook jumped the gun for its humongous video view counts but it was a known fact that the network remained an amateur heavy or user-generated video platform. Facebook realized it and introduced a new video ad program called Anthology. To produce short-form videos for the social network, Facebook is going to create better Facebook video ads by teaming up with advertisers and publishers.

To begin with Facebook tied up with publishers such as Electus Digital, Funny Or Die, Oh My Disney, The Onion, Tastemade, Vice Media, and Vox Media.

From the first half of 2015, Facebook has been quite aggressive in competing with YouTube on product features and also on the PR front. While Facebook left no media space in proving how videos is growing on its network, it also launched five crucial features that strengthens the video arm of Facebook.

However, what is interesting to note is that Facebook didn’t focus much on videos during the latest earnings call. One of the reason could be, Facebook is aware that it is too early to make claims that it’s beating YouTube, the grand daddy of video networks. Besides Facebook has two major issues that it has been covering up and needs an immediate fix.

Advertisers are interested in watch time than just views

Facebook’s biggest claim that it is serving more than 4 billion video views a day is based on the fact that it counts a video that autoplays for at least three seconds as a “view”. This was a concern raised by marketers as they had no way to know whether someone had actually watched their ad, or just unwittingly scrolled by it while not paying any attention to it at all.

When the matter was raised Facebook introduced an attractive way for marketers where they could pay for their video ad if it plays for at least 10 seconds. New change gave some respite but not like the way Google offers flexibility to advertisers.

YouTube’s ad platform gives many more options such as marketers can buy slots before, after, or during videos, make their ads unskippable, or use YouTube’s TrueView option, where they only have to pay if a viewer sticks around for at least 30 seconds or to the end of the video (whichever is less.) In other words YouTube is a platform where advertisers are paying not just for views but for content being actually consumed.

YouTube’s watch time metric is playing the key differentiator as it competes with Facebook.

The same problem was highlighted by YouTube star Hank Green in a scathing post - “Theft, Lies, and Facebook Video”, earlier this week.

Hank recently uploaded a video both to YouTube (150,000 views) and Facebook (300,000 views). Upon closer look it revealed that 30 seconds in the YouTube clip still had kept 86 percent of viewers, whereas on Facebook the retention rate had plummeted to 21 percent. “It’s around this 30 second mark that the graph starts to resemble YouTube’s graph, indicating that this is the point at which people are actually watching the video. Before that, I’m willing to bet that 80% of viewership is simply the effect of Facebook’s auto-playing of my video as people scroll through their feeds.”

Facebook video views

Hank admits that Facebook might have huge numbers but he thinks that it isn’t the reality. “Four billion views per day last quarter! Creators are seeing tremendous growth, and I don’t doubt that Facebook will be an important part of the online video ecosystem, but these numbers do not reflect reality, and I’m fairly certain that this is intentional on Facebook’s part.”

However Facebook thinks that three seconds is a good measure to count a video. Replying to Hank’s post, Facebook video product manager Matt Pakes said, “If you have stayed on a video for at least three seconds, it signals to us that you are not simply scrolling through feed and you’ve shown intent to watch that video.”

In addition to this Facebook measures the engagement with likes, comments and shares. A study by video analytics firm Tubular Labs, for instance, found that the average duration of a top Facebook video is 1.5 minutes, but those videos average a 3 percent engagement rate. Top YouTube videos averaged 12 minutes in length but a 0.65 percent engagement rate.

Nevertheless, YouTube “watch time” is a crucial metric that the video giant is vouching for. According to Q2 2015 Google earnings report growth in watch time on YouTube has accelerated and is now up over 60% year over year. Mobile watch time has more than doubled from a year. The number of advertisers rose 40 percent year over year on the video platform, while the average spend of YouTube’s top 100 advertisers rose 60 percent.

Freebooting, a big problem for Facebook

In a recent conversation, Satyen Poojary, brand manager at PowerDrift informed that the team is not considering Facebook for hosting videos. PowerDrift is a 22 member team of auto and film enthusiasts who are showcasing Indian motoring on YouTube in a way it’s deserved to be seen. “As a platform, it’s not evolved yet, and comes with its own set of woes of poor video management interface, to even copyright credit to the creators. Users can simply download the content and repost it as their own.”

Copyright credit to creators or freebooting is the act of downloading someone else’s copy-righted material, often from YouTube, and uploading it into Facebook’s native video player.

A recent report from ad agency Ogilvy and Tubular Labs found that 725 of the 1,000 most popular Facebook videos in the first quarter were re-uploads of content from other sources. The most-viewed such video raked in 72 million views, while all 725 re-uploaded videos hit a grand total of 17 billion views.

In his post, Hank also discusses about freebooting and states that Facebook’s algorithm favors videos uploaded to its native player rather than those linked from other sites like YouTube. “When embedding a YouTube video on your company’s Facebook page is a sure way to see it die a sudden death, we shouldn’t be surprised when they rip it off YouTube and upload it natively,” Hank writes. “Facebook’s algorithms encourage this theft.”

However Facebook has responded to him. It informed that the company takes intellectual property rights very seriously. “We have used the Audible Magic system for years to help prevent unauthorized video content on Facebook. We also provide reporting tools for content owners to report possible copyright infringement. As video continues to grow rapidly on Facebook, we’re actively exploring further solutions to help IP owners identify and manage potential infringing content, tailored for our unique platform and ecosystem.”

YouTube had to face such issues in the past and it has long dealt with stolen content via Content ID, a software that monitors all uploads against a database of registered intellectual property and will either remove the content or let the original creator collect ad dollars from it.

Facebook also understands that there is a technical challenge and is working on copyright issues. But the responses are slow on taking down videos which is hitting the content creators. “They’ll take the video down a couple of days after you let them know,” Hank writes. “Y’know, once it’s received 99.9% of the views it will ever receive.”

“Facebook is big enough that it shouldn’t need to resort to these tactics to build its video presence. It makes them look weak to be so excited about skyrocketing numbers if those numbers are based on cheating, lies, and theft,” said Hank who has requested fans to reach out to creators if they find content being freebooted.

In the coming days, Facebook will have to resolve these two big issues if it wants content creators to adopt the platform like they have with YouTube.