Facebook’s Video Mistake – and How It’s Changing Your Stats

Written by Laura Roeder

On September 27, 2016
Facebook's Mistake

Has the popularity of Facebook video ever seemed just a little too good to be true?

We know that Facebook has, in the past, given video posts preferential treatment. We know they do everything they can to get people watching – even if it means autoplaying videos in the News Feed. And we know that they keep adding new tools and doodads that make videos – especially live videos – more enticing.

And those things are all great!

Except now we know that Facebook also goofed up all those times when they talked about how successful video is – and that the numbers aren’t nearly as impressive as they’ve been saying.

(It’s okay – they only overestimated video’s popularity by 60-80%, and they only did it for about two years.)

Arrested Development Huge Mistake

You can probably guess that when this news broke, people weren’t particularly pleased – especially considering that companies like BuzzFeed and Mashable have invested a lot of resources into web video just this year.

What exactly was Facebook reporting inaccurately, though? And does it affect you?

Let’s take a closer look and uncomplicate this one!

What Facebook got wrong

To be fair, Facebook didn’t lie about video’s performance – it just wasn’t accurate.

(Chalk it up to a math error, basically.)

One of the statistics Facebook offers you for your videos is video average watch time, which tells you how far on average people are making it into that video before tuning out.


This is the big statistic that they spent years reporting inaccurately, and it’s because of how they calculated it.

Because when calculating that number, Facebook automatically excluded anyone who hadn’t watched more than three seconds of a video – which meant that it was artificially inflating the average time viewed by leaving out a significant number of viewers who dropped out early.

Facebook apologized for the mixup, fixed the mistake, and assured advertisers who use promoted video that this didn’t affect their billing in any way. Ultimately, it was an honest error, and one that’s been fully rectified.


But now that it’s fixed, what are the consequences of that honest mistake?

(And do they even really matter?)

What’s happening next

Depending on which stats you care about the most, you might notice some big changes to your performance.

Now that Facebook is including all video views in your average watch time – instead of just the ones above a certain threshold – you may notice your averages take a slide.

But not all marketers agree that this ACTUALLY matters all that much.

Some of those interviewed in this TechCrunch article, for example, argue not only that views under three seconds shouldn’t be counted, but that there are more valuable ways to track video performance anyhow.

One way? Instead of relying on averages, actually comb through your video statistics to see where the most dropoff is happening, so you can plan your next videos more carefully.


Look at which demographics are the most engaged with your videos. Look at the actions viewers take, and whether the videos you pay to promote are worth the expense. Heck, look at what percentage of people are watching your videos on mute – you may be surprised by how valuable adding subtitles can be!

Facebook may have spent years accidentally reporting that average video watch times were significantly higher than they technically were in reality, but ultimately, that statistic isn’t necessarily one that should be guiding your marketing decisions anyway – so what difference does it make?

Does it bother you?

Now that Facebook has cleared the air and fixed its statistics, how much does it bother you that video’s stellar performance over the past two years has been at least partially exaggerated?

Does it change how much you trust Facebook and its statistics? Does it change the way you feel about video in general? Or are you in the camp of marketers who really don’t care much one way or the other?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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