Facebook video metrics, and why platforms shouldn't mark their own homework
Originally posted on the Maxus blog
Facebook has revealed that for the last two years it has been overstating video completion rates, due to an error in the way it calculates views.
Because Facebook only counts as a 'view' any video consumption over three seconds, it has been applying the same logic to its video completion rate metric - so the metric tells us not how many people who started watching a video then finished it, as we would expect, but how many got past the first three seconds and then finished. It is estimate that their video conversion rates have been overstated by 60 to 80% for the last two years.
Facebook are now hurrying to amend the metric, which they are treating as a replacement, but which is in reality a bug fix.
The news is understandably shocking to advertisers and their agencies, many of whom have been investing heavily in video and using these metrics to monitor and justify spend.
But it is also sadly predictable - an inevitable consequence of the lack of auditability in the metrics produced by many media platforms, not just Facebook.
Facebook have not allowed independent tracking of video completion rates on their platform, meaning that the only way to get video completion data is from Facebook itself. They are not unique in this, and we see this 'metric monopoly' behaviour from many of the digital media platforms, usually citing reasons such as user experience or privacy. Rather than allow advertisers to conduct their own measurement, many platforms are now offering to provide advanced analytics to brands who buy with them, including digital attribution and cross-device tracking. The data and the algorithms that power this measurement remain firmly in the media owner's black box.
Today's news makes it clear how unacceptable an arrangement this is. At Maxus we talk about the importance of 'Open Video' - planning video investment across many channels and touchpoints, reflecting people's changing use of media and making the most of the vast and proliferating range of video types that exist today, from long-form how-tos and product demos to seconds-long bitesize experiences in the newsfeed. As video changes, it creates more opportunities for brands, far beyond the thirty-second spot.
But Open Video requires a commitment to open measurement. As advertisers and agencies we have to be able to gather a coherent, consistent picture of what people are seeing and how content is performing. We are investing significant effort in building the right measurement and technology stack to help clients plan, deliver, measure and optimise Open Video strategies, including advanced quality scoring, attribution and modelling that lets us see how exposure in one channel compares to another in terms of quality, completeness and effectiveness.
Media platforms create amazing new possibilities and are important partners to advertisers and agencies in innovation and delivery. But they should not be allowed to mark their own homework. Measurement and attribution should always be independent of media delivery, available to agencies and auditable by clients. Any other arrangement is a compromise - and, as we've seen this week, a risk.
# Alex Steer (24/09/2016)