Facebook Metrics Show Danger of Buying in Walled Gardens

Nothing says more about the danger of buying only from walled gardens than Facebook’s recent admission that people were not watching as much video on the social network as it had  reported. The average video on Facebook was counted as “viewed” after as little as three seconds, but Facebook didn’t calculate in the number of people who don’t watch video on the site at all.

Facebook apparently made a division error of the kind any normal human could make,

Instead of dividing the total time spent watching a video by the total number of people who watched that video, Facebook’s metric reflected the total time spent watching divided by the number of views the video had generated. With Facebook counting views at three seconds, that meant anyone who had seen just a glimpse of the video was not getting represented in the metric. In fact, Facebook told advertisers that its metric was off by 60 to 80 percent, according to The [Wall Street] Journal.

Advertisers seemed not to care, revealing they they don’t buy on time watched, but on either 10-second views or completed views. In this case. Facebook’s being wrong didn’t seem to cost advertisers money. But they should care, because it turns out 80% of Facebook users don’t watch video at all. Brands looking to shift large budgets from TV to digital video can’t do that safely until the know what their return on investment will be similar. It would be more advantageous if buyers spent more with independent publishers, who are closer to their audiences. Facebook’s audience is simply too large to count properly, and too uncommitted to give good results.

Most independent publishers are forced to accept some kind of third party verification of their views, but Facebook does not use third party vendors; it does its own analytics internally. After this admission, self-attestation will not work anymore for Facebook. It must allow in the same third party vendors, ComScore, Nielsen, or someone else, that the rest of the publishing world uses to tell its story.

For publishers, this inflation of the video watching time is worrisome at best, because most publishers felt they had to pay ball with Facebook and when the platform put its emphasis on video, publishers scrambled to provide video content. But all these publisher resources would be wasted if no one were watching. Because of the way advertisers pay, they can afford to wait and see if their ads work. Content publishers have no such luxury. Once they throw money at an expensive initiative like video, they would like to be sure they’re getting paid.

It will be a while until all this sorts itself out, and we figure out whether mobile video deserves the dollars being pulled out of trusty old TV.