Facebook’s Feeds Give Videos a Boost
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- September 8th, 2014
MENLO PARK, Calif. — On Friday morning, Beyoncé posted a video on Facebook and YouTube that took her fans behind the scenes to see the preparations for her live performance last month at the MTV Video Music Awards.
In the first four hours, Facebook users watched the video 2.4 million times. On YouTube, the four-minute clip garnered just a few thousand views during that time.
The difference: Many of the singer’s 64 million Facebook fans spotted the video in their news feeds and shared it with their friends. People who saw it on Google’s YouTube did not have such an easy way to spread their enthusiasm.
“For us, Facebook has become the primary platform that we use to communicate content to fans,” said Lauren Wirtzer Seawood, head of digital at Parkwood Entertainment, Beyoncé’s management company.
YouTube is still the big gorilla of online video, especially as an archive for work with lasting appeal and as a place where creators can make money from ads sold around their material. But Facebook’s ability to use social connections to make content popular quickly, along with changes the social network has made to its news feed to showcase video better, have helped fuel rapid growth in the amount of video viewed on the service over the last year.
Since June, Facebook, which has about 1.3 billion monthly users worldwide, has served up an average of a billion video views a day, two-thirds of them on mobile devices. About 100 million new videos are uploaded every month. While that is a small fraction of YouTube’s traffic, it is up significantly from just a few months ago.
Chris Cox, Facebook’s chief product officer, said that video was still in its infancy on Facebook. Ordinary users are just starting to learn how to shoot great video on their smartphones, and most professional video creators do not yet know how to use the social network to amplify their audiences.
The company itself is just beginning to grapple with how to give its users a satisfying video experience on the site.
Last December, Facebook began to play videos automatically, with the sound off, when users scrolled past them in their news feeds. But the feature, which can be turned off, upset some people who had to pay for extra data use on their mobile phones. Facebook has since changed the auto-play function to minimize data consumption and added an option for mobile users to enable auto-play only when they are on a Wi-Fi connection.
Facebook also needed to upgrade its infrastructure to host more video and deliver it quickly and smoothly — a goal the company is still working on, along with other improvements.
“We don’t support embedding right now. We should,” Mr. Cox said in an interview, referring to the ability to incorporate a Facebook video into other sites. “We need to make sure people have good controls over how and what videos they are seeing.”
While that will take some time, Facebook plans to announce on Monday some new tools for video publishers to help them monitor and improve the performance of their offerings. Chief among them is a public counter that shows how many times a video has been watched — a feature that Ms. Seawood, who obsessively checks data about the visitors to Beyoncé’s Facebook page, and others have been asking for.
“Fans want to look at videos that other people are watching,” she said. “When you see a video that has 17 million views, you want to watch it to see what 17 million people found interesting.”
Video creators are still plumbing the mysteries of what type of video does best on Facebook.
BBC News, for example, has found that breaking news is best suited to Twitter, whose users are constantly looking for the latest information. Less-time-sensitive stories do well on Facebook, and raw video, shot by individuals or pulled from closed-circuit cameras, is particularly successful. “The poor quality lends it this authentic quality,” said Chris Hamilton, social media editor of BBC News.
One of the BBC’s biggest hits was a time-lapse video of dozens of commuters in Perth, Australia, who gathered to push a train car to rescue a man whose leg had been trapped between the platform and the train.
BuzzFeed, a news and entertainment site, now produces many of its pieces with Facebook in mind. Videos are designed to hook a viewer in the first few seconds that they auto-play in a feed, and key points are conveyed through words on the screen so they can be easily understood without sound.
Ze Frank, president of BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, said Facebook was especially useful for spreading videos that strike a chord with particular groups, such as women, Latinos or Southern Californians, since they tend to share the videos with like-minded friends.
BuzzFeed places its content on many sites, but Facebook is among the fastest growing. Mr. Frank said the number of times BuzzFeed videos were shared on Facebook grew 160 percent from June to July, and 200 percent from July to August.
Perhaps nothing demonstrated Facebook’s strengths in video more than the “Ice Bucket Challenge,” this summer’s social media phenomenon in which millions of people, from celebrities to unknowns, poured buckets of ice water over their heads and challenged others to do the same to raise money for research into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and other charitable endeavors.
Between June 1 and Sept. 1, Facebook said, more than 17 million videos related to the challenge were shared on its service. Those videos were viewed more than 10 billion times by more than 440 million people.
The short videos could be easily viewed in auto-play, and Facebook’s tagging feature allowed people to challenge specific friends to take the challenge. “The coolest thing is, it taught people how to post a video,” said Mr. Cox of Facebook.
Last month’s release of Hyperlapse, a new time-lapse video app from Facebook’s sister service, Instagram, is also prompting a fresh round of video shared on Facebook.
Unlike YouTube, which places ads before and around many of the videos on its site, Facebook does not get any direct revenue from video traffic other than from a few videos similar to television commercials that are bought specifically as ads.
But Fidji Simo, the Facebook product manager who oversees both video and video advertising, said that people interacted more frequently with video than other types of posts. Engaged users also spend more time browsing their news feeds, exposing them to more advertising.
Debra Aho Williamson, a principal analyst with the research firm eMarketer, said that video is a huge opportunity for digital publishers and that users should expect to see more of it.
The challenge, she said, will be sorting through the various types of content — pictures, posts, ads, and now, videos — on Facebook.
Ms. Williamson predicted that as video becomes more common, people will start tuning it out. “I find myself already skimming right over things as they’re auto-playing,” she said. “They’re catching my eye for a millisecond.”