Controversial Issue: What Counts as a Video View?

In the wake of Facebook’s admitted video ad view miscalculation and a continuing issue of limited access on viewing metrics, media companies and advertisers are getting impatient for better digital ad verification. Facebook overestimated the average time viewers spent watching videos by 60-80% on its site, bringing the issue of standardized viewership measurement more controversial.

“Walled Gardens”

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Big tech companies like Facebook and Google keep a tight grip on data, and only allow limited third-party tracking firms to assess the viewing metrics. This is a problem of open transparency and full disclosure.

In response to Facebook issue, an Ad buying agency Publicis Media said, “This once again illuminates the absolute need to have 3rd party tagging and verification on Facebook’s platform. Two years of reporting inflated performance numbers  is unacceptable.”

Varying Viewership Measurement Across Platforms

Each platform has different criteria for what counts as a “view.” The varying standards adds on complicating the issue. Here is the list of how each platform measures one view.

YouTube

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The Google-owned video network counts a view after a user has watched a video for “around” 30 seconds. For videos shorter than 30 seconds, it will count the completed views. YouTube does not provide automatic play, so the user has to click the video to initiate it.

Facebook

Unlike YouTube, Facebook videos automatically play without audio on users’ News Feeds. Views, which are displayed publicly, are triggered when a user watches the video for at least 3 seconds. For the past two years Facebook only counted video views of more than three seconds when calculating its “Average Duration of Video Viewed” metric. Video views of under three seconds were not included, thereby inflating the average. Facebook’s new metric, “Average Watch Time” will reflect video views of any duration. This will replace the earlier metric.

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This means that BuzzFeed’s exploding watermelon video on Facebook Live counted views after just three seconds.

Twitter

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Like Facebook, Twitter also serves autoplay video.  It counts a view after 3 seconds, with the condition that the video needs to be 100% in view on a user’s device for at least three seconds.

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Instagram

Facebook-owned photo and video sharing platform uses the same 3 second standard to count the video views. Instagram video also loops automatically while a video post remains on users’ screens. Moreover, newly launched Instagram Stories counts a view upon opening. When the video is 100% in view in the app only, it is considered as a view.

Snapchat

A view is counted as soon as the video is rendered on the screen (even with autoplay)— that means it could play for a half second and still count as a view.

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New Measurement Needed?

Publishers and advertisers are calling for a standardized way to assess the performance of digital video campaigns across all platforms. As we saw, YouTube measures viewers differently than Facebook. “It’s not an easy answer to solve,” says Jason Kirk, chief business officer at data firm Zefr. “Standardization means you treat all of the platforms the same, and that’s a disservice to the platforms and the unique experience each has built around video — on TV the experience is all linear and the same.”

The Impact to the Agencies & Publishers

It requires a big amount of investment to produce a video and exact viewer engagement metrics are crucial to determine the scope of the investment. Facebook did present a very different picture of engagement than what was actually taking place. Thus, agencies and media companies will start to reevaluate their investment in ads and decisions about how much to spend on Facebook video versus other platforms.

However, despite their wariness and mistrust, publishers are not likely to stray away from Facebook ads.The total number of Facebook videos has increased 94%, year-on-year, and eMarketer estimates that 66% of marketers will invest in Facebook video ads in the next 12 months. In other words, they accept they have to put their content on these viral platforms if they want to reach the widest audience possible. Moreover, there are metrics other than video views that the advertisers care about, such as return on ad spend, time a user spends on their website, cost per acquisition, etc.