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The news feed previously favored short content, because it used the average percent that viewers watch (percent completion) to rank videos. Percent completion will now be weighted depending on how long the video is, which means that longer videos will have an easier time gaining placement in the feed. Within a few weeks, short videos that are high on percent completion but low on other engagement factors won’t be getting the same organic reach they’re used to.
Micro-videos, short clips under 10 seconds, have historically been favored by publishers, because they’ve performed well at a relatively low cost to produce. But average video length on Facebook has been increasing over time, as live streaming and 360 videos have risen on the platform. According to Tubular, in 2015, 47% of videos uploaded to Facebook were under 90 seconds. That number dropped all the way to 12% in 2016, and yet videos under 90 seconds still accrued 62% of the views on new uploads last year. Facebook’s algorithm change is meant to ensure that longer videos aren’t penalized for having lower completion rates, to support the trend towards long-form content.
Emphasizing view percentage in a way that still favors long videos has been YouTube’s formula for years. Rather than percent completion, YouTube refers to the concept as watch time. Since 2012, YouTube has prioritized high view duration and longer overall viewing sessions over any other form of engagement. Watch time affects video recommendation across the site, and it’s no surprise that Facebook is looking to promote videos that hold attention in the same manner. By incentivizing long-form, Facebook aims to move users towards consuming entertainment the way they do on TV and on YouTube.
Longer video watch sessions, and ultimately greater platform retention, are easier to monetize. Facebook has launched mid-roll ads on videos longer than 90 seconds and on livestreams after 4 minutes, so the length of time a video is able to engage a viewer is directly related to the amount of ad exposure and revenue it will generate. Although just in its beginning stages, Facebook’s video monetization model is shaping up to look a lot like YouTube’s. Facebook will be revenue sharing with content producers, offering the same 55% cut publishers receive from YouTube. But for now, Facebook is sticking to mid-rolls appearing later than 20 seconds into a video, rather than pre-roll ads. As a way to attract advertisers to the platform, Facebook just announced a cross-platform metric comparison tool, which will allows users to determine the success of Facebook advertising relative to TV, print, and other digital. After view duration on video ads was found to be over-reported last fall, Facebook continues to roll out new third-party metric verification as well. Facebook may be trying to build advertiser interest so that video revenue share will be worthwhile for publishers.
As Facebook leans into long-form and begins measuring video success in a way similar to YouTube, the competition between the two is becoming more direct. Facebook is now exploring funding partner content; YouTube began attracting content partners back in 2006, and has been launching programs and tools since to fund content and maintain talent and brand investment in the platform. Now, Facebook and YouTube may be competing for the same exclusive content deals. In comparison to YouTube, Facebook content is much more ephemeral, since the news feed continues to be the primary point of discovery for video. Facebook has been trying to improve video discoverability with a dedicated video tab and a recently updated Trending section, but it might need to do more to measure up to the robust long tail of revenue that content can generate on YouTube.
If you’re using YouTube and Facebook in tandem to reach your audience (which hopefully you are), now you’ll need to maximize watch time on both platforms. Whatever your strategy for parallel viewership, it’s going to need fine-tuning as Facebook continues to move towards YouTube’s monetization model. Short-form isn’t going anywhere for now, since shorter videos with engaged viewers will still receive feed placement on Facebook. But publishers that have leaned in to micro-video will need to try out new video styles to find out what long-form resonates with their audience as the algorithm change rolls out in the coming weeks.