Facebook, while building 'video first' strategy, inflated video stats

For two years, Facebook overestimated how much time people spent watching videos on its site by as much as 60 percent to 80 percent.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer

Facebook, gunning to build a "video first" platform, recently admitted to advertisers that it overestimated how much time people spent watching videos on its site -- by as much as 60 percent to 80 percent, as The Wall Street Journal first reported.

A few weeks ago on its own Advertiser Help Center, Facebook acknowledged that it had "erroneously" calculated the average duration of video viewed by leaving out any video views under three seconds. Pressed on the matter by advertisers, the social media giant acknowledged the extent of the problem in a letter reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Video views were overestimated for two years.

Facebook said in a statement that the problem has been fixed and did not impact billing. David Fischer, vice president of business and marketing partnerships, addressed the issue further in a Facebook post Friday morning. "We sincerely apologize for the issues this has created for our clients," he wrote.

Facebook informed its partners of the issue and put in a notice for those looking at video metrics on their dashboards, Fischer said.

"We have also reviewed our other video metrics on the dashboard and have found that this has no impact on video numbers we have shared in the past, such as time spent watching video or the number of video views," he wrote. "We want our clients to know that this miscalculation has not and will not going forward have an impact on billing or how media mix models value their Facebook video investments."

He added that investments in Facebook "wholly depend on the transparency with which we communicate... Our clients' trust and belief in our metrics is essential to us and we have to earn that trust. That is why we also give marketers choice by offering third-party video verification options with companies like Nielsen and Moat. We want marketers to measure video with us in the way they feel most comfortable."

The inflated stats obviously may have helped Facebook win video advertising contracts over other platforms ranging from YouTube to broadcast television, while content producers may have felt an increased sense of urgency to cater to Facebook's "video first" strategy.

On Facebook's second quarter earnings call in July, Facebook CFO David Wehner said that "video as a whole is making a significant contribution to time-spent growth".

CEO Mark Zuckerberg added, "The big theme and strategy that we're executing is we're going to become video first." He reiterated his company's prediction that video will dominate news feeds within five years.

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