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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Facebook Pushes into Video as Creators Cry Foul

August 20, 2015 | By Mark Glaser, Founder and Publisher – MediaShift @mediatwit

Social domination is not nearly enough for Facebook so it decided to take on YouTube with omnipresent auto-play videos in News Feeds. But a funny thing happened on the way to world video domination… While Facebook says it is hitting 4 billion video views per day and gaining on YouTube, there’s been a backlash from video creators on YouTube who believe Facebook is cooking the books. And all this is happening while Facebook is expanding video options for publishers with a slew of advertising updates.

It begs the question: What does it take to dominate video and catch YouTube? And perhaps more importantly, does Facebook have to play by the same rules? And where does that leave publishers and creators who can’t simply ignore Facebook and hope it will go away?

“Theft and Lies”
Hank Green, a professional YouTube creator, raised these questions in a recent Medium post in which he scorned Facebook and its claim to video fame. The post, titled “Theft, Lies, and Facebook Video,” raised a number of issues, a fundamental one being the standards around metrics. A video posted natively on Facebook will get much more views than a YouTube or Vine video on FB. That makes sense. But, Green argues, Facebook counts a “view” at the three-second mark of a video, not after the 30 seconds of viewership that YouTube counts as an engagement.

“When Facebook says it has roughly the same number of views as YouTube, what they really mean is that they have roughly 1/5th of YouTube’s views, since they’re intentionally and blatantly over-counting to the detriment of everyone except them,” Green wrote.

Not only that, but the vast majority of the social network’s high-volume traffic has also been stolen content, according to a recent report from Ogilvy and Tubular Labs. “Facebook’s algorithms encourage this theft,” Green wrote, because its staff will take down the video after it’s been reported — but that’s also after it received most of the views it will ever get.

Others have pointed out that auto-play on Facebook is akin to “cheating,” because a video will play automatically if a person has fast Internet and pauses just long enough for it to be considered an engagement. That doesn’t necessarily mean a person wants to engage with the video in the first place. (And YouTube has its own version of auto-play, with videos playing continuously, by default, after the one you watched.)

Benefits for Publishers
However, what’s problematic for some content creators could also be a boon for publishers and brands who rely on Facebook to help them promote content. Publications such as the New York Times and BuzzFeed participate in Facebook’s Instant Articles program, for instance, because they want to have better performance on the social giant. “That’s where the audience is,” former Twitter exec Vivian Schiller told the New York Times when FB launched Instant Articles. “It’s too massive to ignore.”

The same reasoning holds true for video ads. With 68% of marketers already planning to increase their digital video offerings in the next year, according to a July report from eMarketer, Facebook’s plan to bring a host of video advertising offers to its Audience Network is no surprise. Click-to-play ads, auto-play video ads, multi-image carousel ads and Dynamic Product Ads (which analyze a user’s shopping habits) are all part of this new endeavor. It will certainly help both Facebook and advertisers — and publishers who might be splitting revenues.

So, what’s a creator to do? As Green acknowledges, most content creators will just shrug at all of this — because it’s Facebook. It echoes Schiller’s statement of how publications now have no choice but to work with the social giant.

Perhaps the question now is less whether Facebook will continue this kind of work, and more whether it will help subscribe to a certain code of ethics that Green and others have pointed out are missing. Facebook has said it will look closely at the issue of piracy of videos. Most likely, it will have to change metrics as advertisers demand something more meaningful. Meanwhile, most publishers will remain wary of what comes next, while also hoping to grab hold of the monster video growth while it lasts.

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