Facebook: The Dilemma of a Video Metric

A recent article published by The Wall Street Journal found that Facebook had “vastly” inflated its key performance metric relating to video ads for two years.

A miscalculation

A post in the “Advertiser Help Center” a month ago announced regarding a ‘discrepancy’ “between the definition of Average Duration of Video Viewed and its calculation”. It further stated that the platform had artificially inflated the average time users spent watching videos by only considering video views of more than 03 seconds.

At a glance it may appear to be a minor miscalculation at best. However, Facebook had informed the ad buying agency Publicis Media that that this “miscalculation” has grossly overestimated the average time spent watching videos by 60% to 80%. Despite this error, the Help Center post further stated that “This does not affect ads billing in any way”. The post further stated that, as a corrective measure and to capture what will be truly measured in the future, the metric will be renamed as “Video Average Watch Time”.


“The metric should have reflected the total time spent watching a video divided by the total number of people who played the video. But it didn’t – it reflected the total time spent watching a video divided by only the number of “views” of a video (that is, when the video was watched for three or more seconds).” – David Fischer, Vice President of Business and Marketing Partnerships at Facebook.


In a statement released last Friday, Facebook’s David Fischer acknowledged the miscalculation as an error on their part and further stated that it had no impact on other video metrics released in the past such as time spent watching video or the number of video views. He added that this error only occurred in one out of its many metrics available for advertisers to measure the performance of video ads.

The ‘miscalculation’ resulted in Publicis Media raising the concern over Facebook’s need to have Third  Party tagging and verification on the platform, as two years of inflated  performance numbers are “unacceptable”. Martin Sorrell Chief Executive of the world’s biggest advertising group WPP, stated the needed for a third party tracking, and for Facebook to not “mark their own homework”, as they spent $1 Billion of their clients’ money on Facebook.


VIDEO Facebook Apologizes After Reporting Wrong Viewership Numbers : https://goo.gl/voQ8Ct



Moving Forward

Facebook stated that they have already notified their partners through product dashboards, and sales and publisher outreach. However, this miscalculation hinders Facebook’s proliferated view regarding a future of an all-video platform. The platform that once stated that users watch an average of 100 million hours of video on Mobile are facing the conundrum of in securing its status as an equal alongside the video platform behemoth YouTube in terms of lucrativeness as a marketing channel.

However, this subtext of this ‘miscalculation’ is that the platform stating that it had no impact on the Return on Investment (ROI) of the video ads. While Facebook may try to downplay this as a simple error that can be shrugged off as a dog biting an old shoe, what publishers and agencies are seeing is their favourite shoe that has been chewed-up.

When it comes to publishers they often have to tout which medium they think (proven by statistics) would be best for their clients to use. And quite frequently this would mean forgoing advertising on one platform over another, which could be either through budget allocations or by simply sticking to one platform. However, with the release of misconstrued video views, publishers are left wary regarding how to move forward. As The Wall Street Journal pointed out “due to the miscalculated data, marketers may have misjudged the performance of video advertising they have purchased from Facebook over the past two years”.

The miscalculated metrics further raises an issue for past campaigns launched through Facebook. For the publishers who used these miscalculated figures, they were at a disadvantage as not only miscalculated the length of their video, but also the point at which the the client’s message is disseminated.

In response to the growing concern over the need for third party tracking at Facebook, Vice President of Global Marketing Solutions at Facebook, Carolyn Everson said that “Lastly, I also want to reiterate from a Facebook perspective that we deeply believe in third-party verification. Make no mistake: We don’t believe in simply grading our own homework.” She further stated that Facebook has partnered with Nielsen for years and they have utilized the services of Moat, a video measurement firm, for over a year. Furthermore, Everson announced new partnerships with Nielsen Catalina to measure offline sales, and Oracle Data Cloud for Small Businesses in understand the viability of Facebook as an advertising platform.


Everson reiterated that “Universally, I’ve heard that no one has actually utilized that metric…It did not impact (return on investment) and did not impact billing.” She further urged the ad buying community to put less focus on measures such as impressions, likes and clicks, and to focus on metrics that actually “matter”.


Our Approach

Our advice to clients is to continue utilizing Facebook Videos for their advertising purposes. However, it is best not keep all your eggs in one basket, as Social Media users are fragmented across different mediums we recommend to consider using other platforms such as YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram for your Video campaigns.

Further, we recommend utilizing “shared media ads”. As stated by Katherine Hays, CEO of Vivoom, “shared media ads are co-created by the brand advertiser and the consumer”. Here the company would create a basic layout (quite similar to a Snapchat filter) that can be personalized by the consumer by including their image or video. This approach will not only create engagement with the consumer, but all those in their network when they share the media.


There is no doubt that these new developments will help provide a better picture regarding the ROI of Facebook advertising. Despite this, it is crucial as previously mentioned by Everson, for us to utilize metrics that “matter” when calculating the impact of a campaign. However, the miscalculation of Average Duration of Video Viewed, shows that there is a need for better metrics and enhancements in Facebook’s advertising offering.

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