The Facebook Search For Deeper, Longer Meaning

There’s a time and a place for longer video, and pretty much, so far, that place has been called Netflix. Online video from the beginning has been short and sweet and usually cheap and, however you want to put this, not deep. One of the problems with pre-roll, in fact, is that even a short advertisement seems too long when it precedes a YouTube-sized piece of content.

Can Facebook change this? It will be trying.

“Today, we’re announcing a change to the way we rank videos in News Feed to adjust the value we give to how much of a video is watched,” a Facebook blog announced on Thursday. “One of the signals we look at is ‘percent completion’ — the percent of each video you watch — to help us understand which videos you enjoyed.

“If you watch most or all of a video, that tells us that you found the video to be compelling — and we know that completing a longer video is a bigger commitment than completing a shorter one,” the blog continues. “As we continue to understand how our community consumes video, we’ve realized that we should therefore weight percent completion more heavily the longer a video is, to avoid penalizing longer videos.”

So instead, it sounds like Facebook will penalize shorter video, stating that “Longer videos that people spend time watching may see a slight increase in distribution on Facebook — so people who find longer videos engaging may be able to discover more of them in News Feed. As a side effect, some shorter videos may see a slight dip in News Feed distribution.”

This kind of social media engineering is an interesting attempt to grab a new kind of viewer and a new kind of advertiser, a lot more like the kind of interaction that television advertisers expect and pay for.

Will that work? For an social site that gets overwhelming viewership via mobile devices, I think that’s iffy.

Facebook is also just like almost every other mega-popular destination on the Internet. It’s a fast-in-and-out proposition for users. You check-in and scan at Facebook. You don’t come to camp out.

Though, of course, I could be dead wrong. In December, Ooyala reported that long-form content made up nearly half of all viewing on smartphones; only 23% of all viewing was for content that long, just a year before.

More surprising (to me, the easily surprised one), was that 30% of that viewing was for video that was 20 minutes or longer. (A sitcom’s length, just about.). Ooyala’s Jim O’Neill, commenting on the trend, said the company expected that trend to continue, noting that Netflix and Amazon now offer the ability to download fare to be watched offline.

It doesn’t seem much of a stretch to suppose that Facebook is branching out to become a content supplier and an almost-traditional ad carrier. If you recall, Facebook also announced recently that it will be experimenting with a type of mid-roll ad that would play 20 seconds into a video. That ad has value for an advertiser who knows that the viewer is engaged. And 20 seconds someday could slide to be an ad position that looks just like those interruptions we’ve seen for more 60 years on TV.
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