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What Facebook wants, it usually gets, and despite the general belief that attention spans are increasingly limited, the world's largest social network is apparently intent on encouraging long-form video.
Here's what brands creating video content for Facebook need to know about the changes Facebook is making to accomplish that.
It's changing the way video completion rates are factored into News Feed ranking
In a blog post, Facebook product manager Abhishek Bapna and research scientist Seyoung Park explained that Facebook is changing the way it factors the percent completion metric for video into how it ranks content for placement in user News Feeds:
If you watch most or all of a video, that tells us that you found the video to be compelling — and we know that completing a longer video is a bigger commitment than completing a shorter one. As we continue to understand how our community consumes video, we’ve realized that we should therefore weight percent completion more heavily the longer a video is, to avoid penalizing longer videos.
Distribution changes are expected to be small
Despite the tweak, Bapna and Park say that Facebook's distribution changes are not expected to be significant.
"Longer videos that people spend time watching may see a slight increase in distribution on Facebook — so people who find longer videos engaging may be able to discover more of them in News Feed. As a side effect, some shorter videos may see a slight dip in News Feed distribution," they stated.
This is (probably) mostly about advertising
Facebook obviously has an interest in ensuring that the content it delivers to users is relevant and engaging, but the decision to more heavily weight video completion percentage for longer videos, however slight, is probably designed to help Facebook's video ad business.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is not a fan of pre-roll ads, and thus his social network has to date refused to employ them. Facebook is, however, testing mid-roll ads, that display after users have watched a video for at least 20 seconds.
For mid-roll ads to be successful, Facebook will realistically need to ensure that it has enough inventory of videos that are not super short. That's where the new update and its theoretical incentive to publish longer videos comes in.
Facebook is reportedly going to pay for content
Facebook is said to be in talks with television studios and other content creators about the licensing and production of original content, which would seem to be related to a desire to increase the volume of longer-form video content available to its users.
Brands should think twice before they jump on the long-form video bandwagon
While Facebook suggests that changes in distribution won't be significant as a result of its update, in the ultra-competitve Facebook ecosystem, any update that could give brands a slight edge in capturing eyeballs might entice marketers into changing their behavior.
But given the cost of producing longer-form video, and the risk that users won't stay engaged with this content no matter how much Facebook hopes they will, brands active on Facebook should be cautious about pursuing the creation of longer-form video in the hopes that it will help them eek out gains on the social network.
Even brands that Facebook lures with payments have reason to be cautious. After all, to drive adoption of its livestream feature, Facebook Live, Facebook struck deals with publishers and celebrities to create live video content. The company reportedly allocated $50m to these deals, with some individual deals being worth seven figures.
But a year later, reports indicate that Facebook will not renew these deals, and even if it wanted to, some of the publishers have no interest in renewing because the deals did not prove worthwhile financially.
That is a reminder that what Facebook wants today, it might not want tomorrow, especially once it gets what it needs. There's no reason to believe that won't be true for long-form video content too.