Facebook overestimated the time users spent watching its videos by 60-80% for over two years, giving marketers a false view of how well their campaigns were performing, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Clarifying the situation in a Facebook post, David Fischer, Vice President of Business and Marketing Partnerships, said that the company spotted an error in the way it calculated the ‘average duration of video viewed’ a month ago.
The metric should have been calculated as ‘Total time spent watching a video’ divided by ‘Total number of people who played the video’. Instead, it was reflected as ‘Total time spent watching a video’ divided by ‘Number of views of a video’ (view being counted when a video was watched for 3 seconds or more).
Here’s an example to make it clearer: During your campaign, if your video was viewed for 5 million seconds. 2 million people played the video and 750,000 watched it for more than three seconds, instead of 2.5 seconds, the average time spent watching the video was reported at 6.6 seconds.
We should make it clear that Facebook has a cost per view model for every video that’s viewed over three seconds. So advertisers weren’t charged extra due to the miscalculation. However, considering it’s a key metric and Facebook is competing against the likes of Youtube and others, it definitely had an impact on the planning and allocation of advertisement dollars.
Fischer further said in his Facebook post,
As soon as we discovered the discrepancy, we fixed it. 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.
While transparency on the issue is welcome and many companies have stated that incident won’t have any effect on future ad spend on Facebook, a fair few feel otherwise and rightly so. It’s no secret that Facebook has a trust problem. The company basically screwed over anyone who spent money on building a brand on the social media platform by severely limited reach on Facebook Pages.
Misreported engagement numbers for 2 years are a cause for concern at the ‘black box’ approach undertaken by Facebook, Google and others. Among many calling for bringing down the ‘walled garden’ approach was Sarah Wood, CEO of Unruly.
She said, ”Not only will it raise questions about the effectiveness of Facebook as a video platform but it will raise more fundamental questions around trustworthiness and highlights as to why third-party verification is so critical.”
Another agency head said: “The danger is that these digital publishers can cut the numbers whatever way they like in their favour. It just lacks integrity”.