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The video algorithm: Facebook vs. YouTube

The video algorithm: Facebook vs. YouTube

Video Algorithm: Facebook is beginning to highlight library content suggestions to keep users engaged for longer periods of time and increase their ability to monetize that time through ads.

When Facebook first introduced video to the newsfeed in 2013, it was the first time a major player challenged the video space that YouTube dominated at the time. Before the aggressive push of Snapchat stories and before Instagram Live, Facebook video changed the industry, so did the video algorithm of the two platforms

Six years later, Facebook is in the next phase of its video product: making its video inventory more attractive to advertisers. But the question remains: Is Facebook successfully helping to encourage creators and publishers to upload content by again enabling organic algorithmic success? In other words, can people take their content to Facebook to make money?

Brief history

A year before Facebook got into the video business, YouTube shifted ranking videos by page views in favor of video watch time. This algorithm change rewarded developers with more organic traffic, which led to more monetized inventory and made the company even more profitable.

Facebook also counted video views, but had a very different definition for what counted as a view - three seconds. The controversial view counter, Facebook said, signaled "intent to watch a video." Equipped with it, Facebook went from zero to 4 billion daily views in less than two years. This news forced YouTube to finally publicly outline their viewing metrics (about 30 seconds) and sharply criticized Facebook for "intentionally and blatantly overdoing it to the detriment of everyone but them."

Still, Facebook showed promise for advertising and content creators began to optimize their videos accordingly. By 2016, Facebook published that people watch around 100 million hours of video every day, after which Google's CEO reminded investors that YouTube viewers watch hundreds of millions of hours of video every day.

Intent does not equal commitment to the video algorithm

It wasn't until Facebook's views matched YouTube's that the social media giant began making changes to its video algorithm that would monetize the product more effectively. Although the views increased, the monetizable ad inventory was not quite there due to the lack of monitoring time. So the company updated its algorithm to favor watch time over completion rate, just as YouTube had done five years earlier. Similarly, Facebook followed in YouTube's footsteps by launching Facebook Watch and Facebook for Creators, its first significant investment to bring developers to the platform.

But Facebook has many more challenges than YouTube as it struggles to monetize its video product. As a social media platform, Facebook relies on networks and connections. The Friends and Family algorithm update in 2018 downplayed publisher and brand content in the feed, significantly hurting publishers and brand reach and making them pay to play.

However, Facebook is looking to attract creators and make its video inventory more appealing to advertisers. The company has recently recruited publishers like BuzzFeed, Condé Nast, and Complex Networks to produce original content, and just recently unveiled best practices for creating and monetizing content on its platform.

Despite a rocky start, Facebook video is showing promise. Looking at the fullscreen creation network across platforms, our top creators have seen a significant increase in watch time on Facebook. We've seen a 14% increase in views on videos across brand and entertainment channels, and long-form content has seen a similar increase. Videos between five and ten minutes have seen a 12% increase in views over the past year.

Our data, as well as recent announcements, suggest that Facebook is beginning to emphasize the suggestion of library content (through the video algorithm)to keep users engaged with certain types of video content longer and increase their ability to monetize that time through ads. YouTube essentially learned this back in 2012. This presents the possibility that monetized video as a format will eventually be subjected to an alternative distribution algorithm than the one that currently governs the newsfeed.

Driving this opportunity are the changes we've seen on the platform, the continued Investments of Facebook into creators and, most importantly, the company's attempt to do what YouTube has done - but in its own way.

Ultimately, the opportunity for brands to take advantage of Facebook is similar to the promise of YouTube. Create unique content that people want to see. When brands create content that people want to see, it provides a real opportunity to drive organic viewership and monetization. It's an advertiser's dream.

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