In the past year, Facebook has been pushing hard for its native video platform to be a major player in paid media. There’s undoubtedly a not-so-subtle bias towards the Facebook native player over paid embedded YouTube posts, highlighted by the laughably tiny YouTube thumbnail shown on a user’s News Feed. Despite the advantages of driving views on YouTube that don’t exist on Facebook (namely organic search and discoverability), Facebook is forcing the hand of advertisers to use its platform. Combine that tactic with recent changes to the News Feed algorithm that greatly favor paid brand content over organic, and one can’t help but conclude that Facebook is pushing hard to monetize video.
However, for Facebook to be a serious player in video advertising, media buyers need more insight into how its videos perform. The current analytics are, in a word, subpar. They lack the information that YouTube videos and other online video properties have provided for years. The current metrics do not differentiate between paid and organic views, nor do they break down demographics for the plays or time spent on each video. There isn’t even a differentiation between auto-play views and click views. This is a huge problem for those who want to accurately measure engagement and views, or create a meaningful CPV (cost-per-view) comparison against other platforms.
Thankfully, Facebook has finally made the announcement that some of these basics will be included in its metrics in a future update. Some much-needed additions include average duration of video viewed and number of videos viewed in percentage increments. There are also breakdowns for demographics and location data, as well as a cost-per-action computation.
This is all great news, but the timing does raise a concern: Is Facebook respectful of its advertisers’ needs, or has it gotten so big that strategists feel they feel they can be grossly behind the times and still monetize their platform? Will they continue to enhance tools for media and do what’s right for the brands that support them, or have they grown complacent? Are the enhancements enough?
Will Facebook address the legitimacy of existing metrics, as in the way it measures impressions? Impressions are shown to the advertiser as the number of people who have “seen” a post. For a short time in the not-so-distant past, the language switched to number of people the post had been “served to.” Does that imply that Facebook’s impressions are measured by number of times an ad is loaded into a News Feed, and not by actual views? There’s a big difference between being loaded and being “seen.” Being seen means that the post was active in a user’s viewport. Can the platform differentiate?
The same problem exists with traditional banner ads: An ad below the fold is often still counted as an impression. Since impressions are part of the overall paid video picture, are we getting an accurate measurement? Facebook’s ability to deliver cheap impressions may be a case of you get what you pay for.
Those of us who have been using paid video ads on Facebook should be relieved that these enhanced metrics are coming. It certainly helps legitimize Facebook video as a part of an overall media mix. However, Facebook still has to make up some serious ground if it hopes to challenge YouTube for paid online video dominance.