Facebook fights dirty in video showdown


It’s no secret that Facebook has its eyes fixed firmly on the prize when it comes to being the internet’s biggest video platform.

In April Facebook reported that it is getting 4 billion video views per day. Besides being extremely attractive for advertisers, numbers like that would suggest the writing is on the wall: given time Facebook will eclipse YouTube both in terms of views and the volume of content uploaded to the platform.

It has recently been reported that Facebook is looking to insert music videos into people’s newsfeeds. If Facebook completes the licensing deals with the major record labels it’s been in talks with, this will deal a hefty blow to YouTube and Vimeo, both of which rely on music videos as one of their most popular content segments.

Facebook has another major advantage in the video war given the rapid growth of mobile video streaming. Check the numbers and you’ll find that more than 70% of Facebook’s $3.42bn revenue is now coming from mobile. As it stands, 65% of Facebook’s video views happen on mobile compared to 50% of YouTube’s, making Facebook arguably the best-positioned platform to capitalise on mobile video.

However, in a recent blog entitled “Theft, Lies, and Facebook Video”, popular YouTuber Hank Green opened up a particularly slimy can of worms by exposing a few damning truths about Facebook’s claims to video fame.

Fluffing the numbers

Facebook’s number of 4bn views a day might seem impressive, but the reality is that what counts as a view on Facebook and what counts as a view on YouTube differs drastically. A YouTube ‘view’ only counts if a user watches a video for 30 seconds or longer.

A Facebook view? Try three seconds. By Green’s estimate, this means you can take Facebook’s supposed number of daily views and divide them by five.

Added to that, at the moment, there are no third party tools to verify that the video stats Facebook presents users with are accurate. We just have to trust that the numbers Facebook supplies its users with are legit which, in the face of all the evidence Green is presenting, seems a little naïve.

This throws everything into question when considering Facebook as a serious contender to YouTube when it comes to hosting paid for video content.

But wait, there’s more…

Total Free… Freebooting…

Interesting fact: post a video hosted on YouTube (or any other video platform) to Facebook and, depending on the video, you get a few hundred views if you’re lucky.

Post that same video natively on Facebook and the number of views sky rockets.

In a way this makes sense. Facebook have cooked their algorithms to favour native content, fine. Business is business.

However, what this is effectively encouraging people to engage in the dubious practise of “Freebooting”.

Freebooting refers to people who rip video content off sites like YouTube and then post that content natively to Facebook in order to make money off the massive number of “views” that native video gets on Facebook.

The seriousness of this cannot be underestimated. To quote Green’s blog:

“According to a recent report from Ogilvy and Tubular Labs, of the 1000 most popular Facebook videos of Q1 2015, 725 were stolen re-uploads. Just these 725 “freebooted” videos were responsible for around 17 BILLION views last quarter… Facebook’s algorithms encourage this theft.”

Instead of responding in a timely way to people who file complaints against people free-booting content on the platform, Facebook prefers to drag out the procedure of taking down freebooted videos for as long as possible. And why wouldn’t they?

Every extra day that a freebooted video stays up is another day of views they can boast to advertisers about.

And yes, YouTube is equally as guilty of allowing people to upload stolen video content, but there is one major difference – “Content ID”.

Google developed “Content ID” in order to check every piece of content that is uploaded to YouTube against a huge database of known owned content. Thus, if you upload a video to YouTube and it starts to get a significant number of views, the content owned can claim that video and receive revenue from it.

Not so in Facebook’s case where video content creators are losing large sums of potential revenue to opportunistic freebooters.

The bottom line here is that, in Green’s words, “Facebook is big enough that it shouldn’t need to resort to these tactics to build its video presence”. Its aggressive expansion into video could potentially backfire should the platform get a bad name as a curator of stolen, pirated content.

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