Facebook admits to over-inflating key video view metrics

Rosie Baker
By Rosie Baker | 24 September 2016
Mark Zuckerberg

It has emerged that Facebook has been over-inflating video view metrics for around two years, fuelling the debate around digital players’ ‘walled gardens’ and the need for independent third-party measurement across the platform.

The error emerged in a Wall Street Journal article yesterday, which outlined that the metric used for calculating the average time users spent with video was only including views of more than three seconds. By not including views of less than three seconds in the ‘Average Duration of Video Viewed’ metric, the average would have skewed higher making it seem as though users were watching for longer.

Facebook is said to have disclosed the error in its advertiser help centre a few weeks ago and has introduced a new metric. The new ‘Average Watch Time’ metric includes all views.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Publicis Media was informed the average time watching figure could have been inflated by up to 80%, and quoting a scathing note the agency sent to clients about the error from Facebook.

Facebook has moved to apologise and emphasise that the “miscalculation has not and will not going forward have an impact on billing or how media mix models value their Facebook video investments”.

Facebook has been on a crusade to position itself as a video-first channel. Australian MD Stephen Scheeler told AdNews in a recent interview that video is “the backbone” of the platform, so this is an embarrassing mistake to make over a key metric.

It means that investment decisions from agencies could have skewed more towards video based on the over-stated figures around video’s performance. But, it is only one of many metrics that agencies and marketers consider around video. The Wall Street Journal also pointed out that publishers are impacted by the error because they would have been given incorrect information about how much time users are spending with their video content.

A Facebook spokesperson told AdNews: "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. We also renamed the metric to make it clearer what we measure. This metric is one of many our partners use to assess their video campaigns.”

David Fischer, VP of business and marketing partnerships also posted a further statement overnight. He said: “About a month ago, we found an error in the way we calculate one of the video metrics on our dashboard – average duration of video viewed. 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). And so the miscalculation overstated this metric. While this is only one of the many metrics marketers look at, we take any mistake seriously.”

While Facebook has tried to be transparent about the mistake, it won’t help with the social network’s reputation as a “walled garden” and keeping its measurement metrics close to its chest.

Many criticise Facebook for “marking its own homework” and not being open to third-party independent measurement.

Earlier this year it did begin a partnership with Moat however, which does allow marketers a third-party measurement tool and Scheeler told AdNews the platform is open to further partnerships.

Facebook’s three-second video measurement standard has also been criticised. Measurement its critical for marketers and agencies to assess their activity and this is just the latest incident which demonstrates how complex it can be.

Last month AdNews revealed Nielsen had been misreporting numbers around YouTube video views for anything up to 18 months.

Have something to say on this? Share your views in the comments section below. Or if you have a news story or tip-off, drop me a line at rosiebaker@yaffa.com.au

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