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You Can't Compare Facebook and YouTube Views

Written by on July 10, 2015

One thing the tech press needs to stop doing is to compare views across different social services. It's one of the most misleading forms of reporting that you can make.

Take video views. On Facebook, a view is counted after a video is played for 3 seconds, and all videos are set to be autoplaying. This means that, essentially, all videos that happen to cross your visible Newsfeed will be counted as a view, regardless if you look at it or not.

Note: Advertisers can choose to pay for video views that last 10 seconds or more, but they are still auto-playing.

On Instagram it works the same as on Facebook. A view is 3 seconds/autoplaying.

On Vine, with videos being only 6 seconds long, it doesn't make much sense to count a video as being viewed before all of the six seconds has elapsed, but they too are autoplaying.

On YouTube...well...it's tricky. A view is generally counted only after 30 seconds, and they are only partially auto-playing. By this, I mean the first video you see isn't auto-playing. You have to make a deliberate choice as to what video to see. But once you have watched that first video, the new default setting for YouTube is that it will Autoplay the next 'suggested' video once the first one is completed. This makes it nearly impossible to determine the value of a YouTube view, because it depends on which stage it was viewed (which you don't know as a creator).

But you see the problem with comparing these?

We know that the longer a video is, the more people will drop off before reaching the end. Thus, how long you measure will have a huge impact on the number of views you can report.

Let me illustrate this in a very simple way. Let's assume a baseline of 100,000 people, all coming to a page with a video on it.

If you count video views the same way as a pageview, you would now have 100,000 views. Every person seeing the page is one view, because you are measuring how often it is loaded onto the page.

Clearly, this isn't a very good way to measure it. So, let's move on to measuring time spent.

In order to determine view based on time spent, we need look at video retention rates. Here is an example from Facebook:

As you can see, the more time that progresses, the more people you lose (more about that below). So, if we count a view as 3 seconds, 88% of the 100,000 would be counted as views.

For Facebook and Instagram, this is then the number you get. 88,000 views.

If we instead measure it the way Vine does, as 6 seconds, we see that retention has now dropped to 79%. In other words, 79,000 views as reported by Vine is exactly the same as 88,000 views on Facebook.

So what about YouTube?

If you look at the graph above, you will notice that we can't even see how many views we get at the 30 second mark, because the video is too short. But if we were to continue this line, we see that, after 30 seconds, only 19% of the audience remain.

But this isn't how YouTube works. Remember, on YouTube, most videos don't autoplay. People have to choose what to see and are thus have an intent to watch.

This changes everything in two fundamental ways.

First, because people choose to see a video, we see a much slower drop in retention rates than on Facebook. Here is an example from YouTube:

Notice how on Facebook that retention rate had dropped to 50% after only 17 seconds, while on YouTube it's still around 90%.

This is a very important difference. On Facebook, we start out with zero intent, which has a negative result on the level of stick-to-itiveness.

Secondly, since people have to choose what they want to watch, most videos aren't played at all. If you see a list of 10 videos, you might only view on one or two of them.

In other words, a YouTube video view is roughly the (total number of people * by the rate of people who chose to watch it) * by the retention rate at 30 seconds.

Looking at our baseline of 100,000 people, and if assume that people watch 15% of the videos on a page, and if we compared this to the retention rate after 30 seconds, which in the example above is still 90% ... we get the result of (100,000 * 15%) * 90% ... or, 13,500 YouTube views.

Thus, one view on YouTube is the same as 6.5 views on Facebook, but only in this example. We are making a lot of assumptions here. There is so much that we just don't know, and the retention rate will obviously vary between videos.

For instance, here is the retention graph for one of my videos. As you can see, at 30 seconds, it's 79% instead of 90%.

In reality, the way Facebook and YouTube measures views is so different that we have no real way of comparing them. It's not just how it's measured technically, it's also that the intent is so much different.

The question we should really be asking, though, is not how many views a video has, but how valuable it is, and for what purpose. And you can probably tell that the value and purpose of a video on Facebook is very different than one YouTube.

The way Facebook does videos is like that of an outdoor billboard. As you walk down the street, you look at its direction and you might get influenced by it. But you weren't looking for what that billboard had to offer, nor did you really have an intent on acting on it. It just happened to cross your field of view.

This is not a bad thing, per see, because that billboard did the job of creating exposure, and we know that exposure is one of the many important elements of branding. But it's still just exposure.

YouTube views, on the other hand, are more like when you walk into a restaurant and you look at the menu. You see 25 different things you can buy, and you finally decide that you are going to try the number 4 sandwich. In this case, the level of exposure for each item is much lower, but for that one item you picked, the value is many times higher.

This is the difference between Facebook and YouTube. You can't compare them. The views they create are aimed at two entirely different things.

What's really interesting, though, is that Facebook is planning to offer monetization for video creators when they publish videos on Facebook, just like YouTube has done for many years. This is where we are really going to see what the value of a Facebook video view is, and for what reason.

On YouTube, we see a very clear link between YouTube creators and value. All the really famous YouTube stars make videos that a much longer than what Facebook is aiming for, and for an audience with a different behavior and intent.

It's going to be very interesting to see how this will now play out on Facebook. The most likely scenario is that the two won't be the same. Can you imagine watching a 15 minute video in your Facebook stream? The difference in behavior is just too big.

I wrote much more about this in "The Five Behaviors That Define The News Business".

Facebook is wonderful for many things, but it's designed around that one behavior that I call the break. YouTube creators are designed more around the behaviors I call the story, the passion and the recline.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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