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Facebook has now publicly apologized for overstating video metrics for more than two years.  That’s nice.  But not not so nice if you’re one of the people that’s been relying on those metrics to place advertising buys on the social media platform.

Overestimated by 60%-80%

One of the world’s largest advertising agencies, Publicis, says Facebook told them the average time spent watching videos was overestimated between 60% and 80%, according to The Wall Street Journal.  I’ll bet they’re not happy since they spent billions of dollars in ads.

What Facebook has copped to is inflating the average duration of video views.  A video view on Facebook doesn’t count until it plays at least three seconds.  That’s better than what the Media Rating Council advocates – which is a view when at least 50% of the ad is visible on screen for at least two seconds.

What that means for duration though is that anything less than three seconds isn’t accounted for in Facebook’s duration metrics.

“About a month ago, we found an error in the way we calculate one of the video metrics on our dashboard – average duration of video viewed. 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 (that is, when the video was watched for three or more seconds).” – David Fischer – VP, Business and Marketing Partnerships

Most advertisers use the metrics Facebook provides, without third-party verification, so you have to take Facebook’s word for what happens when you spend money on its site.  Larger advertisers, and agencies, can use third-party companies to monitor and provide metrics, such as Nielsen.

Facebook, however, has so far denied releasing data to other third-party verification companies, such as ComScore.

“In an effort to distance themselves from the incorrect metrics, Facebook is deprecating [the old metrics] and introducing ‘new’ metrics in September. Essentially, they’re coming up with new names for what they were meant to measure in the first place.” Publicis memo to clients, published in The Wall Street Journal.

In late April, Facebook reporting a jump in advertising revenue of 57%.  Its 1Q 2016 ad revenue alone was $5.2 billion dollars.  COO Sheryl Sandberg said roughly 80%of the ads were higher priced mobile ads.  She called out video as the strong spot in a recent earnings call.

Our clients’ trust and belief in our metrics is essential to us and we have to earn that trust. That is why we also give marketers choice by offering third-party video verification options with companies like Nielsen and Moat. We want marketers to measure video with us in the way they feel most comfortable. – David Fischer – VP, Business and Marketing Partnerships

Video is the future

Mark Zuckerberg“We see a world where video is first, with video at the heart of all of our apps and services,” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO in an investor conference recently.

So it’s probably important that Facebook gets its measurements right.

Facebook could have easily just update the metric stats and not said a word.  Would people have noticed?  Maybe, maybe not.  FB is always tinkering with its algorithms and it has an impact on the metrics.  Just ask publishers who have seen a continued decrease in referral traffic over the past years – in some cases dramatic.

But it appears they’ve done the right thing here.  Admit the mistake, fix the problem, and let the world know what you’ve done.

“We sincerely apologize for the issues this has created for our clients. This error should not stand in the way of our ultimate goal, which is to do what’s in the best interest of our partners and their business growth. We can only be successful if we’re providing clients with the tools to drive their business forward, and we’ll continue to deliver on that promise” – David Fischer – VP, Business and Marketing Partnerships

Still, that’s not sitting well with the advertisers and agencies.

Two years or reporting inflated performance numbers is unacceptable

“This once again illuminates the absolute need to have 3rd party tagging and verification on Facebook’s platform. Two years of reporting inflated performance numbers is unacceptable.” – Publicis memo to clients, published in The Wall Street Journal.