Advertisers criticise Facebook video analytics

It’s widely accepted that video is the future of digital advertising. More people watch videos than read content online; in fact YouTube claims that its billion users watch hundreds of millions of hours of video every day. Naturally with an audience like that, advertisers and businesses are keen for a slice of the action: so keen in fact, that they are willing to pay a premium to platforms like Facebook for the privilege. The question is how do you know you really are getting true value for money? Well, the answer is you simply check Facebook analytics.

But here’s a more important question: how do you know that what you’re being told is accurate? Well, the short answer to that is that you don’t. You just have to take what you’re told on trust and hope that it’s correct. The problem with this is that what you’re told isn’t necessarily the truth: the ‘facts’ are based on estimated viewing figures.

The perfect example of this over-hyping of video viewing has been uncovered at Facebook recently. Research revealed that the social media behemoth had been overestimating how much video people had watched for the last two years, and it has now somewhat reluctantly had to admit that. The social network has since claimed to have fixed the error and assured advertisers that the problem is now history.

How much had viewing figures been overestimated? Well, it’s difficult to say with any degree of certainty, but one advertiser told the BBC, they believed video viewing statistics had been overestimated by up to as much as 80 per cent. Why is it important to have accurate figures in this context? The simple reason is because analytics are a vitally important tool for advertisers as they use them to calculate how much of their video content is being watched online.

The problem with Facebook analytics, it appears, is that it uses a metric called ‘average duration of video viewed’. This metric is intended to inform publishers how long, on average, people had watched a video. The problem was that metric did not factor in people who watched the video for less than 3 seconds. These, along with figures from people who ignored the video entirely, inflated the average viewing times for each video.

So how has Facebook reacted to the revelation? Facebook said it acknowledged that there had been a problem, but added that the video-viewing metric was just one among many that ad firms use to work out if their content is being watched. A statement from Facebook said:

“We recently discovered an error in the way we calculate one of our video metrics.”

“This error has been fixed, it did not impact billing, and we have notified our partners both through our product dashboards and via sales and publisher outreach,” it added.

The video-watching metric has now been renamed in an attempt to more accurately reflect what it measures, the company said. The metric has been renamed ‘average watch time’. Facebook started using this rebranded video-consumption metric last month.

Whilst Facebook took the criticism in its stride, the reaction from advertisers was far more disparaging. The Wall Street Journal quoted ad-buying firm, Publicis, as saying that Facebook’s misreporting was ‘unacceptable’, adding that it showed the need for third-party verification of all statistics gathered by Facebook.

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