Facebook's video misreporting is 'careless and unfortunate'

Rosie Baker
By Rosie Baker | 26 September 2016

Facebook's 'over-inflation' of video view times opens up broader concerns from agencies about 'black box' approaches from publishers and digital players that keep everyone in the dark.

It has been called “careless and unfortunate” by agencies and serves to highlight the need for third party measurement across all digital channels.

Jason Tonelli, chief digital and technology officer at Publicis Media, says: “Our broader concern is that publishers do not act to allow us to use our third party partners to impartially assess the results of campaigns – we are really looking for our partners to join us on this journey to allow us to make the best decisions for our clients and in turn their customers.

“Facebook is not the only publisher that approaches measurement this way. We are focused on working with all publishers to provide our clients with third-party tracking of all campaigns so that we can impartially assess campaign results and make the most informed real time decisions to drive better campaign results for clients.”

It emerged over the weekend that Facebook has been miscalculating the average view time for videos by between 60% and 80% for around two years – making it seems as though people were watching video for longer on the platform. Read the original story here.

The way Facebook charges advertisers is on a cost per view metric – for every video that is viewed for more than three seconds. So although it doesn’t affect the costs incurred by advertisers, it would have impacted planning and buying decisions as well as how it was reported.

An example shared with AdNews explains the error like this: A brand's video has played on Facebook for a total of five million seconds during a campaign.  During that period two million people started to watch the video. Only 750,000 of those watched more than three seconds.  Facebook had been calculating the average view time based on just people who have watched beyond three seconds - not the total number people who started watching the video. The difference is significant - in the above example the reported average view time would be 6.6 seconds and not 2.5 seconds.

Tonelli adds: “It is a misguided view of average viewing time at an aggregate level – data which we use to plan, optimise and measure campaign success – so the error can misguide the allocation of campaign activity to Facebook based on this reporting.”

“This metric (average view time) is commonly used for measuring campaign success, and when looking at how we optimise campaigns, this metric is definitely one used to make investment and optimisation decisions.”

GroupM's head of digital John Miskelly says the decision to omit this segment from the calculation is “careless and unfortunate”. He emphasised that it serves to show the need for third party measurement “not only to verify trading terms, but also to verify performance”.

He adds that its partnership with Moat to track video metrics means the agency group is “comfortable” that it has been reporting accurate data to clients.

While it is a genuine error that affects one of many metrics Facebook measures, it's an issue of integrity for the entire ecosystem.

“The danger is that these digital publishers can cut the numbers whatever way they like in their favour. It just lacks integrity,” one agency head of digital tells AdNews.

It's thought that the issue could accelerate the conversation around Facebook – and other digital platforms – being more open to independent verification, but another senior digital boss says the only way Facebook is likely to change its ways on a major scale is if there is pressure to do so from clients at a global level.

The IAB has responded, but didn't comment directly on Facebook. Vijay Solanki, CEO of IAB Australia, is currently in New York at the IAB's MIXX Awards. He says: “Making measurement make sense for advertisers, publishers and agencies is a top priority for IAB Australia. It’s in the best interests of everyone in our industry to work together to deliver transparent and comparable metrics with independent oversight.

“We’ve made great strides forward in our digital measurement in Australia and our data is more accurate and advanced than anything else in market. However digital measurement is an iterative process and more can be done, so we are seeking the active support of all publishers to help us to continue to deliver the best possible metrics.”

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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