Facebook's Video Quality Problem

Despite YouTube’s dominance, online video is a hotly contested space. As social networks and streaming content providers fight for eyeballs, perhaps none are fighting harder for a bigger share of audience than Facebook. However, there are some fundamental challenges in place.

Follow the Leader

Facebook is playing a bit of catch-up with YouTube, as demonstrated by a few key moves this year. Enhancements to the quality of the video player, the introduction of news feed auto-play, and increased video prominence on the Facebook mobile app are all important moves. However, the most important enhancements have been made in order to appeal to media buyers. For instance, the shift to more robust video analytics is a key area where Facebook has been lagging behind other platforms.

However, Facebook faces challenges attracting interest in video advertising. One challenge is demographics. While Facebook is struggling to hold onto its younger audience and its largest growing segment is middle-aged, YouTube remains very strong in the coveted 18-34 demographic. Much of that has to do with younger audiences gravitating to the best content.

Content Issues

As Facebook moves to fewer and more prominent ads – and brand organic reach continues its steady decline – the platform is shaping up to be more of a typical paid media space than a social network for brands. This is fine for advertisers looking for reach, but may not prove to be ideal for the viewer who is looking for relevant content.

Facebook’s algorithm and method of serving content is fundamentally different from YouTube’s. Whereas YouTube exists as more of a video search engine, Facebook displays the videos it supposes you will be interested in. This is largely based on the engagement level of posts in the form of likes and shares.

Unfortunately, that leads to a serious quality problem in the videos that are showing up in news feeds. Unscrupulous Facebook pages are taking advantage of highly viral videos – often YouTube videos not owned by the page and re-uploaded – to get prominence on users’ news feeds. This starts to create a low-rent, spam-like feel to the social network. Because video on Facebook is not an open, searchable entity where copyright is organically enforced, these plagiarized viral videos are left to run amok.

Auto-play amplifies these issues. This relatively new feature will begin playing a video without sound as it enters into the user’s news feed. This is a boon for Facebook’s consumption metrics, as it pumps up video views – but it may further turn off users if the content lacks relevance. It could be the fifth time the user has seen the same viral pet video. Oh, not again.

This is a stark contrast to newer social networks that use video in a more organic, social manner such as Snapchat, Vine, and Facebook-owned Instagram. However, that may all change as they seek to monetize their products. 

The Closed Network

Facebook’s biggest hurdle in video remains its fundamental nature. Without being an open, searchable database of on-demand video like YouTube, natural discoverability is limited and the level of relevance relies almost solely on the news feed algorithm. If the news feed algorithm continues to be taken advantage of and irrelevant content forced on users, Facebook’s video ambitions may wind up further detracting from the user experience.

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