Facebook vs YouTube: Quantity, Quality & Quirky Counting

-By Daniel Nunan


Sometime about now, Facebook will zip past YouTube to become the internet’s preferred video viewing platform. Maybe. Sort of.


A few months back, Facebook gleefully announced that it had just passed the 8 billion daily video view mark, a figure that puts them on par with YouTube. That’s not just huge, it’s also happened insanely fast. For context – YouTube got to 4 billion back in early 2012; Facebook hit that point in April.


So how did a social media application get the edge ahead of Google’s preferred home of video? There are a few obvious reasons. First, there’s the move to mobile: Facebook is the world’s leading mobile app with over 126 million unique users, and it’s growing faster than YouTube (97 million users, and about to be put into the bronze position by Facebook’s fast-growing Messenger app). Facebook is where mobile users live, whether they’re out for entertainment or just killing time stalking acquaintances.


Secondly, videos can only go ‘viral’ when they can be shared (duh), and Facebook is for sharing (duh). When the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge swept the world in mid-2014 the ‘challenge’ angle made social the obvious vector for spreading the charity effort (which was reportedly responsible for a huge surge in Facebook’s video views). While copying and pasting a YouTube link is hardly the highest bar to get over (first world problems, people), being able to quickly tag Facebook friends in the comments under a video gives them the edge when it counts.


So if Facebook video is on fire, any advertiser with a video and a few bucks to promote it should be headed there, right? Mark Zuckerberg might be nodding enthusiastically; but as you’ve probably guessed there’s more to the story. Simply put, there’s video views, and there’s video views.


On Facebook, videos are set to auto-play (meaning views get racked up even when a viewer’s attention is frequently elsewhere); defaulted to mute (meaning ‘views’ may be just that); and count a ‘view’ once the video has been playing for just three seconds – even if those three seconds are played without audio and at the very bottom of the screen. The bar is noticeably higher over at YouTube, which counts a view at around about 30 seconds (they’re coy on what their exact metric is).


For advertisers, YouTube offers the opportunity to put ads directly in front of viewers (‘pre-roll’), with un-skippable periods starting from five seconds, and the option to book entirely non-skippable ads of up to 30 seconds in length. At that point, viewers are free to remove the ad altogether, but only once you’ve had a few crucial moments to truly engage the audience. Like their ‘organic’ content, a YouTube ad ‘view’ is counted at 30 seconds (or the end of your video, whichever comes first), where Facebook’s multiple purchasing options include costs per instant view (not even three seconds) and at a higher rate for views of up to 10 seconds. And yes, those 10 seconds could be on auto-play, and completely silent.


The obvious downside to YouTube is that (now, or very soon), they’ll be talking to a smaller market. But in all the talk of viewer metrics, a quality argument has to be made – because people go to YouTube to watch videos. Facebook users go to Facebook to… Facebook. Scroll around, click this or that, see what so-and-so’s doing, and maybe watch a video. YouTube is still the superior platform for quality video engagement.


So is it that simple – YouTube wins, Facebook’s no good? I think you can tell from that flippant tone that, no, it’s not that simple. Each has their strengths and weaknesses when you factor in where your target demo lives online, cost-per-view considerations, and the type of message you need to get across. But the next time Mark Zuckerberg tells the world his platform is the undisputed king of video, just remember there’s a really, really big asterisk clinging to that title.


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