By now I’m sure you’ve heard about the big Facebook “scandal” surrounding their Average Watch Time metrics.
As expected, the media blew the entire situation out of proportion, claiming that Facebook was intentionally inflating their metrics.
But as a video marketer, when I first heard about the issue I was left scratching my head, wondering what the big deal was…
So to help correct any misunderstandings around this controversy, I’m sharing what actually happened and how it affects marketers and advertisers.
What Really Happened With Facebook’s Average Watch Time Metric?
To really understand what happened, you first need to know that Facebook calculates “video views” differently from other platforms.
Here’s how it works:
Because Facebook videos autoplay in the newsfeed, anyone who scrolls past a video would cause it to play, even if they don’t actually look at it.
That doesn’t really make much sense, which is why Facebook only records video plays that exceed 3 seconds. And while that’s still not perfect, it’s a better indicator that someone actually saw your video.
But the problem is that this method of calculating views is confusing for many marketers and advertisers, especially when comparing their Facebook video data with video data from other platforms, such as YouTube.
So when Facebook reported that Average Watch Time didn’t include video plays of between 0-3 seconds, marketers and the media were outraged, claiming that Facebook was intentionally inflating their numbers.
In reality, however, Facebook was just being consistent and calculating their Average Watch Time based on “views,” not on “plays.”
This resulted in Average Watch Time being slightly over-inflated, which Facebook eventually discovered and self-reported.
Facebook’s VP of Advertising called it an honest “miscalculation” and later apologized, stating that:
“The metric should have reflected the total time spent watching a video divided by the total number of people who played the video. But it didn’t – it reflected the total time spent watching a video divided by only the number of “views” of a video.”
As a result of the recalculation, everyone’s Average Watch Time took a dramatic hit, which sparked the outrage and controversy around this issue.
That said, the change was only perceptual and the metric itself wasn’t very valuable to begin with.
So What Does the Change Means for Marketers and Advertisers?
As a video marketer, I don’t think the change matters very much.
For starters, the metric itself isn’t very meaningful. Average Watch Time isn’t a Key Performance Indicator (KPI). It doesn’t impact your ROI calculations, nor does it have an impact on your advertising costs.
But that doesn’t mean Average Watch Time is completely useless either. It can be useful when comparing the performance of a video to other videos you’ve created. However, the recalculation didn’t impact your ability to do side-by-side comparisons. All the insights you’d gleaned before the change are still true after the change.
So the change doesn’t really have much of an impact.
What really concerns me is how much marketers and advertisers seem to care about this relatively insignificant metric. That tells me that marketers are still having trouble understanding how to use their metrics in a meaningful way.
The Right Way to Use Facebook’s Average Watch Time Metric
The most valuable way to use Average Watch Time is to analyze the second-by-second audience retention chart, which marketers can use to identify drop-offs in viewership at various points in a video.
This chart can help you optimize your video by identifying and or updating those sections where viewers drop-off, with the goal being to keep your viewers engaged longer.
Typically, you’ll see a steep drop at the beginning because of Facebook’s autoplay feature and the fact that your content won’t be relevant to everyone in your audience. But after that initial drop-off, you should see a very gradual decline in viewership for the rest of the video.
If you see any “dips,” then you know something happened that was off-putting to viewers (e.g. boredom, confusion, bad jokes, etc.).
Is there a point in the video where viewership sees drops off? Consider going back and revising that video for your next campaign. This is especially critical when using Facebook videos in an ad campaign, as even marginal improvements can generate significant ROI.
Ultimately, Facebook’s Average Watch Time controversy has been wildly overblown. All the signs seem to indicate it was an honest mistake and not even a very impactful one.
The metric that was changed was never particularly useful in the first place.
The second-by-second audience retention chart, which is paired with Average Watch Time in your analytics, actually paints a much more useful picture for marketers and advertisers looking to find success with video. And incidentally, that metric was always right in the first place.
Still have concerns about how this may affect you? Let me know in the comments below.