How & why Facebook video can overtake YouTube

How & why Facebook video can overtake YouTube

It started with a timelapse video of an Apple Watch unboxing. The 18 second video was too long for Instagram, so I shared it with my friends on Facebook. Boom—in an instant 7,000 people (apparently) “viewed” the video. Facebook puts the stats prominently below the video clip, and they had the intended effect. I was suddenly thinking, Wow, that is a lot of views. Now, to be honest, Facebook “views” are like “hits” were in the days of the old-folk’s web. Facebook counts anything which plays for three seconds as a view, which makes for nifty numbers. A more accurate measure, however, is how many people actually click on the video to watch it.

Facebook brass might consider giving its video team a bonus, for this is the ultimate mind hack—data without context! Yes, I’m as much a sucker for viewership as the next person. Thus I decided to make a few more videos, to see if these numbers weren’t a fluke. (Although, admittedly, unboxing videos are the gadget blog equivalent of sextapes.) So I uploaded another video, this one from my recent trip to Iceland. At about four minutes, it was longer, and the views were predictably fewer—only about 400. Even so, it was more than I expected. I’d assumed that the snackable nature of Facebook meant people were’t going to watch longer videos, just as they aren’t going to sit and read longer articles. But in fact they were doing more than snacking, or at least 400 of them were.

I am not much of a video guy—I like words, and have been experimenting with pictures. Although I express myself best with the written word, lately, photos have allowed me to add texture to my thoughts. Video, I have always felt, was out of reach. It’s why I had hesitated to revive the GigaOm show. Facebook video might have changed that. I strangely find it okay to put out amateurish-looking videos. I mean who is going to see? Just my friends!


We can’t underscore the importance of the comments and community. Take this CollegeHumor video about Crossfit madness. It has about 6 million views. In comparison, same video on YouTube has two million views, even though CollegeHumor has had a longer presence on YouTube. The crucial difference is that on Facebook, you see people actually talking (and tagging) their friends who are Crossfit users, which in turn drives up the video viewership and final counts. On Facebook, comments drive distribution. On YouTube, you want to duck for cover.

The strategic problem for YouTube is that the views come at the end of the click. While I follow Vice’s Munchies and DigitalRev TV, I rarely hit on the related videos. I click on the email or the notification on my iPad, watch the video and bounce. In comparison, Facebook has a complete feedback loop. Not only are they a discovery engine, they are also a consumption platform. The click starts on Facebook and ends on Facebook.

The video views and the comments from friends and followers had the intended effect on me — for me, Facebook has now become the first though (and perhaps the only) choice for sharing videos that are casual, personal and social. I found YouTube a bit overwhelming- thanks to all the negative comments. Facebook community feels “familiar” and there is very little comment-related nastiness, so there is way less hesitation to share videos.

With video, Facebook might have hit upon the magic formula, and end up becoming the much-awaited “Instagram for video.” It is different from everything that is out there. It isn’t Vine. It isn’t Instagram. It isn’t Snapchat. It’s just a place for personal videos, no matter how amateurish, because we love dogs chasing their tails and our kids throwing their breakfast.


Facebook seems to have timed it right. Mobile video is about to have its golden moment. We have better wireless networks that are faster than ever and are everywhere.

  • According to Ericsson, each year from until 2020, mobile video traffic will grow by a staggering 55 percent per year and will constitute around 60 percent of all mobile data traffic by the end of that period.
  • Globally, there are 600 million LTE subscriptions and by 2020 there will be 3.7 billion LTE subscriptions, according to Ericsson predictions.

Recording video is now as easy as holding a phone and pressing a button. Apps are getting simpler—Cinematic and Vee are great examples of dead-simple “capture, edit and share” video apps. If you don’t know editing, just upload your stuff to Magisto and they will do it for you (though it costs you money). I made all my recent videos (and photos) on iPhone6+ using iMovie. And all I can say, I wish Apple was focusing on making better software as much it focuses on hardware. (Did you know that you can’t edit an iMovie Mobile project on iMovie Desktop?) Maybe it is time for Facebook to make their own video production app?

A story in the most recent issue of Fortune magazine recounts the quiet success of Facebook video. I may be noticing the potential only now, having given up active reporting almost a year and a half ago. But it seems since 2014 when Facebook got serious about its video efforts, it has grown by leaps and bounds. Some recent stats about Facebook’s video efforts are mind boggling:

  • Facebook has 4 billion daily video views, nearly as many as 10-year-old YouTube.
  • BuzzFeed’s video views on Facebook reached more than 500 million in April 2015.
  • Mic shared an 8-video series that had a whopping 33 million views.
  • In February 2015, 70 percent of Facebook’s videos were uploaded directly to the site, versus 25 percent in February 2014.
  • “440 million viewers watched Ice Bucket videos a total of 10 billion times,” Fortune writes. In comparison, YouTube announced a billion views.


Now for me this was the money section of the story:

“For creators with more than a million Facebook fans, photo posts reach 14% of their audience on average, and text-only updates reach just 4 percent, according to one manager of content creators. But video posts? They reach 35 percent.”

I say money quote, both in jest and seriously. Why does Facebook favor video and why do videos have higher reach in the news feed? It isn’t accidental. It’s a strategic imperative as videos can and will generate more advetising dollars per active user. eMarketer projects that in the US, “spending on mobile video advertising will grow more than 70 percent to reach $2.62 billion in 2015—over one-third of the estimated $7.77 billion to be spent on digital video ads. By 2019, eMarketer estimates, mobile’s share of total digital video ad dollars will reach 47.7 percent.” This is the battleground — “US adults will spend an average of 39 minutes watching video on mobile devices (including both tablets and smartphones) accounting for more than half of the total 76 minutes of average time spent per day with digital video content,” according to eMarketer.

They need brands to shift more dollars into video ads. Facebook needs to train our brains into being comfortable watching videos in their news feed. I think it will be only a matter of time before news feed becomes a video feed. “I think that the next frontier is becoming synonymous with mobile video.” Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s vice president of global marketing told Fortune. It won’t be hard for them, as long as they stay focused on the casual video uploader and don’t get too obsessed with videos from professional content creators.

The casual uploader (such as me or my cousins) are the best way to undercut the association people have with YouTube and casual videos. They need to tune their engine to make people think about Facebook as a place for videos shared by friends and family. Videos, unlike tweets or status updates, are all about total attention—and once you are watching them on Facebook, you are not going to YouTube. And if YouTube’s traffic flatlines, all the professional video stars will be looking for plan B—aka Facebook.

The personal videos are a great hook. Something Facebook can do the best. And they cost nothing. Casual video creators aren’t lining up outside Chris Cox’s office and asking for a contract, as most successful video talent wants from YouTube (and perhaps, Facebook). The focus of the company should be to help the “commons” share more video, and have them share it with their social networks. And perhaps later they can expand to all the other stuff being put out by others such as Buzzfeed Video.

Facebook can continue to steal attention away from YouTube, DailyMotion and others—then it can realize its true potential as video platform of the post-social age.

And to think I went down this rabbit hole because of an unboxing video!
With special thanks to John Tayman, Mark Hall, Hiten Shah and Nima Wedlake for feedback and suggestions.

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