When you were a child, did you ever have a homework assignment or a test you were able to grade yourself? You probably scored yourself better than you actually did, giving yourself a little more leniency than if someone else had graded them. It turns out that that’s essentially what Facebook has been doing for the last two years, and Google might be doing it as well.
It’s time to let someone else grade the papers.
Last week, the Wall Street Journal broke the news that Facebook had been overstating average viewing time of video ads by up to 80% for a period of two years. Prior to yesterday’s admission, Facebook had been calculating the Average View Duration metric differently than they were publicly defining it. By failing factor in views of less than three seconds, the average view time metrics were artificially inflated.
In a statement, Facebook admitted the error, claiming it “has been fixed, it did not impact billing, and we have notified our partners both through our product dashboards and via sales and publisher outreach. We also renamed the metric to make it clearer what we measure. This metric is one of many our partners use to assess their video campaigns.”
The market response to this revelation has been one of great concern, as brands and publishers have looked at this metric as a sign of success for video advertisements. It is now apparent that viewers consumed each video for a shorter average duration than these brands and publishers initially thought. While this discrepancy does not impact the actual paid delivery of these videos, it does impact the perceived value and creative merit of certain videos.
As a result, major agencies and their clients are worried that they have misjudged the performance of their ads, the type of content they have produced, and whether they should have spent more on different platforms, such as YouTube, Snapchat, Spotify, Twitter, podcasts, or on traditional television advertising, or if those platforms are any more transparent.
Many concerned partners are now saying that Facebook must stop self-reporting; no more grading its own homework. By existing as a walled garden with limited third-party tracking firms, Facebook is not easily held accountable for calculation errors in the metrics that it reports. This latest revelation is a sign that the industry must now band together to demand more transparency and verification of date from Facebook, as well as other walled gardens like Google.
Take YouTube, for example. We know it has grown over the years, but we have no idea how much, beyond what Alphabet tells us. And while Facebook claims that they’ve tweaked the metric and it doesn’t affect the bottom line… c’mon. Everything at Facebook affects the bottom line. It’s Facebook.
This is a time for publishers to band together in the name of transparency. We simply do not know what is going on—measurement wise—in either of these industry giants and we’re trusting the data they provide without any insight as to what’s moving the dials.
It might be time for some brands to reevaluate how heavily they’re utilizing Facebook for their video advertising. There are other options in the forms of things like Twitter or others, and traditional media still exists. It may also be time to reevaluate what constitutes a view across these different platforms. Three seconds—‘the standard for a view on Facebook—is nothing, especially when you consider that the bulk of these 3-second views are happening without sound by default.
As often as we criticize them, Nielsen has a few things right. The 30-second view has been a mainstay for a long time, and Nielsen provides a level of third-party accountability that—clearly—has yet to arrive in the world of social video. Perhaps it’s time we let someone else grade performance.