A view from Rich Astley

Facebook video metrics blunder shows digital must learn from TV

The row about Facebook's flawed video metrics highlights the need for a single currency for all video, Rich Astley of Videology UK explains.

It doesn’t look good. The fastest growing area of digital video has been shown to have clay feet.

Average video viewing time on Facebook has been overestimated for the last two years by up to 100%. And all because Facebook failed to include the statistics for anyone who watched a video for less than three seconds.

What could have been a simple statistical error, designed to create clarity around viewership time, has undermined a platform’s trust with its target market of TV advertisers.

This matters because Facebook video is not just another video publisher in the digital landscape. In-feed video has been rapidly growing as a format not just on Facebook but also on Twitter and Snapchat.

In November 2015, Facebook announced that it had reached 8 billion video views per day. In April 2016, Snapchat said it had 10 billion video views per day.

This growth has enabled significant audience reach and increasing shift of spend from linear TV.

However, what Facebook’s metric issue really highlights is the risk associated with "walled gardens".

Marketers need third party validation to justify significant investment in digital video and Facebook, like other digital providers, has so far been allowed to mark its own homework in this area.

When there’s no ability to measure using third-party providers, the question can always be asked as to whether brands are getting what they paid for – more so when user growth and consumption is growing so rapidly that often there may not be the time taken to establish new standards.

As an industry we need to strive for open accountability that demonstrates confidence in return on investment.

Look at the TV industry that has built robust panels over many decades including multiple stakeholders with different interests.

Yes, panels are not perfect, but they are held accountable to standards and are audited for quality and reliability.

If new video platforms with rapid growth are to attract major TV spenders they need to take a leaf out of TV’s book: Take the time and do it right.

Digital video is still a young industry, scaling quickly, but remember that TV took decades to develop the toolkit it offers today.

In particular, it took time to build the BARB brand and reputation and create a standard set of metrics that was accepted by all parties.

Creating a similar system that covers not just digital video but also TV in one unified metric should be our goal, and should include the walled gardens to provide a single reach and frequency view of audio-visual (AV) advertising.

Clearly there is more data available in digital video with viewability, fraud, sound on or off, and player size that are unique to digital viewing and the effectiveness of in-stream. But the most important building block is a single set of independent data accepted by everyone.

If we want to see ad budgets shift from other channels into digital video at a significant rate then we need to give marketers confidence in our channels. That means giving them data they can trust, that is clearly independent of the people taking their money.

No chief marketing officer wants to be told that the money they’ve been spending for the last two years hasn’t delivered what they’ve been told. With independent accepted metrics, we can make sure that doesn’t happen again.

Rich Astley is managing director at Videology UK