Video is the best performing, most engaging, optimal content type to go for on Facebook. Right?
Everyone in digital marketing knows this, with many data reports - both from Facebook and from third-party organizations - showing that video drives more interaction. But are people actually watching as much video on Facebook as the company has reported, or has Facebook deliberately mislead publishers over the amount of video content its users consume?
That's the allegation leveled in a new lawsuit filed in the California Federal Court. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, a group of Facebook advertisers have filed the suit which alleges that Facebook engaged in unfair business conduct by providing inaccurate performance metrics which "significantly overestimated the amount of time users were spending watching video ads".
The plaintiffs claim that Facebook uncovered "irregularities" with its "Average Duration of Video Viewed" metrics in January 2015, but then failed to report or act on the issue till mid-2016, which, the advertisers claim, demonstrates a concerted effort to cover-up the mistake. Facebook did admit that it had been calculating this element incorrectly for some two years, and it's since added additional third-party verification and independent measurement partners. But if it is true that Facebook failed to disclose the errors for over than a year, the impacts could have been significant.
"Facebook told some advertisers that it likely overestimated average time spent watching videos by 60% to 80%. The plaintiffs alleged in Tuesday’s complaint that the error was much larger and that the average viewership metrics had been inflated by some 150% to 900%."
Worth noting here that in November 2015, as part of the company's Q3 '15 earnings call, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg reported that Facebook was facilitating 8 billion video views per day. How many video views does Facebook serve per day now? We don't know, because Facebook's hasn't updated that figure since, which could suggest that, indeed, those metrics were significantly inflated, and Facebook is saving face by simply not reporting an actual, revised number. If, for example, it's really more like half of that - or less - it would be a concern for Facebook to report that updated figure, years later, and reflect seemingly much worse performance.
And the expanded impact of this could have been equally big - as noted by various commentators, Facebook's emphasis on video consumption lead to many media organizations pivoting their strategy to video in order to maximize performance on the world's largest social network.
If you missed it: today it was confirmed that Facebook massively & knowingly inflated its video-view statistics, which had the DIRECT consequence of 90% of media orgs firing writers in favor of expensive video producers, who also got fired when it turned out video was worthless https://t.co/WqdAUBIe6L— Chris Conroy (@dyfl) October 17, 2018
If Facebook did inflate its video view stats by 150% to 900%, that would definitely be a major concern within this broader shift. With an audience of more than two billion people, and many businesses now reliant on The Social Network within their strategic approach, any error of this magnitude could have a disastrous effect. And with Facebook continuing to push its video credentials with Watch, this lawsuit, if successful, could also have a major impact on The Social Network's future video ad business.
For their part, Facebook has said that the lawsuit is "without merit", and has moved to dismiss the fraud claim.
In a statement, Facebook said that:
"Suggestions that we, in any way, tried to hide this issue from our partners are false. We told our customers about the error when we discovered it - and updated our help center to explain the issue.”
But still, there are some questionable elements here. There is some level of additional reassurance now that Facebook has implemented new verification measures and third-party partnerships. But it may be that the shift to video isn't as significant as we've been lead to believe.
It'll be an interesting case to watch, and interesting to see whether we get an update from Facebook as to what the impact of video has been and where the errors lie.
And if it is true that Facebook inflated its video stats so significantly, that could open the door to further litigation from companies that have lost out in the digital video shift.