Facebook gave advertisers inflated video numbers

Whoops! Facebook apparently failed to double check its math when it calculated a key metric advertisers use to judge the performance of their video ads.

The social media giant lets advertisers know the average time users spend watching a video, but Facebook has been inflating that figure by crunching the wrong numbers.

The Menlo Park tech firm admitted the mistake in a note in its “Advertiser Help Center” weeks ago. Facebook initially said it calculated this metric by taking the total time spent watching a video and dividing it by the total number of people who have played the video. Instead the company was taking the total time spent watching a video and dividing it by the number of people who have viewed a video for three or more seconds, which pushes up the average.

Advertisers apparently aren’t too happy with the error because it painted an incorrect picture of how their video ads were performing for two years.

The company told ad buyer Publicis Media that it likely overestimated the average time users spent watching videos by between 60 percent and 80 percent, according to The Wall Street Journal, which cited a letter the ad buyer sent in August to clients.

Facebook, like other social media companies, is trying to increase the amount of video that’s uploaded and viewed on its website. The company said it responded when it discovered the mistake.

“This error has been fixed, it did not impact billing, and we have notified many of our partners both through our product dashboards and via sales and publisher outreach. We also renamed the metric to make it clearer what we measure. This metric is one of many our partners use to assess their video campaigns,” a Facebook spokesman said in a statement to SiliconBeat on Thursday.

Now the company calculates the average watch time of a video by taking the total watch time of a video and dividing it by the total number of video plays, including ones that start automatically or get clicked.

On Friday, Facebook’s VP of Business and Marketing Partnerships David Fischer apologized for the mistake, noting that the trust of their clients is essential.

“We sincerely apologize for the issues this has created for our clients,” he wrote. “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.”

Photo by AFP/Getty Images


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    If I’m understanding this correctly, 60-80% of so called ad views were being watched for less than 3 seconds and the data the advertisers were receiving led them to believe the ad was being watched for significantly longer periods… and this does not effect billing?

    Something doesn’t add up. Am I misunderstanding this?

  • Walking Fool

    FB pulled a Volkswagon on the advertisers.

    Zuck knew he was about to be exposed. That’s why he had the big hoopla about donating money to cure diseases, so he can come out looking like a good guy.

    Zuck, the Wells Fargo CEO, VW CEO, they all need to serve jail time.

  • Warren Baum

    This was pretty obvious if you have any familiarity with performance advertising or have worked in the user acquisition field for video.

    Only ad networks like Unity, AdColony, and a few others provide full video (un skippable) video ad units. Their ads are channeled more like Television in a sense that a user is opting in to watch content and in exchange is served a full video advertisement.

    – If you need consulting advice on video ad placements, I would suggest checking out the Video Ad Agency http://www.baummobile.com for questions and help with creative services.