GroupM: “Facebook has unique definition of video”

Facebook has a unique definition of video: If it moves, it’s video, from a GIF to a slideshow to conventional video. This unconventional definition, combined with short attention, may point to ways of using Facebook video quite unlike television, says GroupM in its latest State of Video report.

Rather than compete to make shorter films, why not animate images that were formerly static? All advertising aims to intrigue and engage, and this is not confined to traditional linear narrative, suggests GroupM. This matters especially given Facebook’s scale and level of consumer adoption. Advertisers have issues with autoplay (as opposed to user-initiated), and with data. Aggregate Moat scores across GroupM’s client base suggest no more than a fifth of ads are watched for more than two seconds.

Analysis by GroupM agency, Wavemaker, suggests conversion from impression to a three-second view is in continued decline. Advertisers should therefore vary their valuation of the platform to reflect actual video ad consumption. Facebook reasonably argues that its targeting is peerless, and advertisers succeed when they make better, more relevant ads suited to news feed, and optimize for measurable business outcomes. Facebook is doctrinaire about this. Its campaign set-up interface pretty much mandates an objective be chosen from awareness or site traffic or app installation. Note that most Facebook ad innovation is in Live, Stories and Messenger – all outside the scrolling feed.

Recent moves at Facebook suggest it aims to capture more of the “traditional” video advertising formats. Facebook Live opened to all users in April 2016 to join the professionals Facebook had encouraged to produce live material to increase engagement on the platform. Facebook publishes no usage or monetisation data about Live. It seems Live’s commercial emphasis is now much reduced, and Facebook is more focused on long-form programming in general.

The August launch of Facebook Watch takes it into direct competition with YouTube and television. It is expected that advertising will be the only source of revenue, and programing will be firmly mainstream in terms of brand safety. Facebook is also slowly building a sports portfolio, including limited packages in Major League Baseball, The NFL and the UEFA Champions League – another indication of vibrant demand for content. Not even Facebook wins all the time; its $600 million bid to stream Indian Premier League Cricket failed.

Long-form programming and long-form advertising go together. It is highly likely Facebook will have a video product that launches from the news feed but is a linear viewing experience, so a much more television-like advertising experience.

This strategy is both bold and conservative: conservative in content, and bold in the potential for two billion users to move their TV time to Facebook in a big way. This is of profound significance to the entire industry and, in theory at least, could resemble the effect Craigslist and others had on newspapers at the turn of the millennium. While TV has made some progress in targeting it is not at the “people-based” granularity that Facebook can offer. We may witness a major disruption if by the end of 2018 Facebook has a large hour-a-day audience for  ad-supported TV.

Many will reasonably ask “is this why people go to Facebook?” To which an answer might be that few expected the platform to grow as it has on the publication and sharing of news. Moving to long-form video reflects ambitions which stretch from communications to commerce, and customer service to content, with a goal to become the one-stop digital destination used by everyone, everywhere. The next two years will tell.

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