Watching the astronomical rise of video on Facebook, Snapchat, and YouTube — Medium
Watching the astronomical rise of video on Facebook, Snapchat, and YouTube
Part 1: What Happened? Looking at the macro and platform-specific factors
“Over the next few years, video is going to be some of the most engaging content online,” Mark Zuckerberg during 2015 Q3 earnings call.
One of the more mind blowing tech and media trends of 2015 was the astronomical growth of video engagement, namely on Facebook, Snapchat, and YouTube. Facebook started 2015 serving 3–4 billion video views per day. By Q3, the number doubled to over 8 billion.
If Facebook’s 2X growth in video views in 6 months seems impressive, Snapchat tripled the number of views in a similar time period (May-Nov), from 2 to 6 billion daily. In January, Bloomberg reported that Snapchat had already reached 7 billion views per day, and many predict it will soon overpass Facebook. Snapchat has already won is views per user — it’s 100M users are watching about 60 (!) videos per day, whereas Facebook’s larger 500M users are viewing closer to 16. What’s perhaps more astounding, Snapchat users have to click on a video to watch it, while Facebook autoplays clips in its news feed.
YouTube also saw some mind blowing metrics in 2015. As of June 2015, only 2 videos had gotten to a billion views on YouTube (“Gangnam Style” and “Baby”). In the second half of 2015, 8 (!) additional videos reached a billion views.
For ten years, the Billion View Club was one of the most exclusive circles on YouTube, but in 2015, things changed.
[Note that the three platforms have differing ways of counting a “view” — Facebook (at least 3 seconds), Snapchat (as soon as it renders in full screen), and YouTube (30 seconds). This is hotly contested, especially among the ad tech world. However, the broader point is that massive scale has been reached.]
YouTube, Snapchat, Facebook and others weren’t the only witnesses to the explosive rise in video in 2015. This was also the year that Periscope and Meerkat launched (the former amassing 40 years of video after a few months). An even bigger live streaming platform, Twitch.Tv, continued its dominance of live gaming, with over 100M unique viewers per month, and 106 minutes watched daily on average. Finally, though the focus of this post is not video at the ‘professional’ end of the spectrum, that side is overflowing with content as well. In 2015, Netflix alone released 16 original scripted, 12 documentaries and 10 stand-up specials to its nearly 70M subscribers.
What’s going on here?
The question one must inevitably ask here is, what’s going on? Anytime numbers in the billions have order of magnitude changes, it should cause some pause. Did consumers make more time for video? Did Facebook et al merely turn on the tap to previously unmet demand for video? Or are the platforms simply making it easier for video to shift from TV to digital?
When we look back over what drove growth of video, we can separate the factors into those that are macro (consumer behavior and tech trends) from platform-specific (how platforms like Facebook et al are capitalizing on the macro).
First, some factors that sped the rise of digital video engagement. This category includes technological and behavioral changes that increased demand for video consumption.
- More time on mobile. Consumer time spent on mobile continues to increase, though at a slower rate. Note that time in-app is more than 3X time on mobile web, and the latter has largely stalled (which is a HUGE concern for Google, but that’s a topic for another discussion).
- More time watching digital video, less with TV. As eMarketer notes, “video consumption as a whole, across all channels, will hold roughly at current levels — suggesting consumers are swapping TV time for digital video time.”
- Faster mobile connection speeds. Because video files are large, they require fast networks speeds to reduce latency in rendering and playback for users.
- More UGC video [By ‘UGC’ I refer to everyday users uploading video to a social platform]. There’s more video being created and uploaded, from smartphone videos of marches against police brutality to Snapchat’s vide0-based ‘stories’. In November 2015, there were over 7.2M videos uploaded directly to Facebook by 1.4 million different users (around 7 videos/per user). In the aggregate, the video had 158+ billion views (~20 view s per video). In January 2015, Facebook noted that U.S. users uploaded 2X more videos than the year prior. Look to the “Ice Bucket Challenge” phenomenon for evidence. The simple fact is that when you combine more mobile phones with better cameras and faster upload speeds, you get more videos uploaded to social platforms.
- More viral and social video [Here I refer to video that media companies and MCNs produce and share]. Perhaps the most accurate lens through which to view the increase in this category of social video is BuzzFeed. The media company’s Facebook video views grew 80X in a year, reaching more than 500 million in April 2015. In February of 2015 the company announced that they had amassed 1 billion views across all platforms. Last year, when I was working with BuzzFeed’s product team in NYC, I visited BuzzFeed Motion Pictures in LA. In its barn-like loft in West Hollywood there were close to 100 video producers, each of which was responsible for creating an original short video each week.
Facebook, a year ago, didn’t have a video product at all. And now they are generating billions of views for us and lots of views for many other publishers. Facebook’s “superpower” is continually improving and getting better over time. –Jonah Peretti, CEO of BuzzFeed, speaking with Business Insider.
Now that we can see the macro trends that have enabled video to be easily created, uploaded, shared, and viewed, the next question is: Why have some platforms flourished (Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat) while others (Twitter) haven’t? The simple answer is that it was the result of smart product decisions. I’ll look at Facebook and Snapchat as the two examples.
- Facebook — Since 2014, Facebook has been a quiet mission to make video easy as possible upload, watch, and share. We can trace the growth back to two simple yet profound changes: 1) auto-play videos in the feed, and 2) newsfeed algorithm changes that incentivize video (natively uploaded, of course). What’s astounding is that these relatively minor tweaks had profound results. As Fortune reported, in February 2014, only 25% of videos on Facebook were uploaded natively, the rest coming from YouTube or other video sites. A year later, nearly 70% of Facebook’s videos were uploaded directly.
- Snapchat — The wildly popular network has two video focused features that drive addictive engagement: Stories and Discover. ‘Stories’ are short montages of videos and photos, often with text/illustrations overlayed, that can be shared privately or broadcast. The public-facing Stories are called Live Stories, which typically are mini-summaries of places (Rio de Janeiro) or events (NFL Playoffs) — in other words, they’re pretty much exactly what Twitter Moments was supposed to be. Meantime, ‘Discover’ is a set of channels, each from a major media network (Vice, BuzzFeed, et al) that feature mini segment updated on a daily basis. In my mind, Discover has replaced TV for the mobile generation. There is surprisingly (or unsurprisingly) very little data on the relative size of Stories vs Discover. All we know is that lots of users are highly addicted to both.