We all know that YouTube is the go-to platform for online video – but could that all be about to change? Some industry experts certainly believe that Facebook could be on course to eventually take YouTube’s crown.
There’s no doubt that Facebook has earmarked digital video as a major focus, illustrated by a string of new video-centric features added recently.
We know that Facebook is aggressively targeting video – and, moreover, many of these features have been designed specifically to emulate or surpass YouTube. So is the battle for online video about to escalate into all-out war – and how concerned should YouTube be?
The case for Facebook
On the face of it, the idea that Facebook could soon overtake YouTube is based on a number of perfectly rational arguments.
For a start, there’s Facebooks standing as the most-used social network, with over a billion users. Then there’s the social graph – its clearest competitive advantage. This gives marketers the targeting power to display relevant video content to specific user profiles in a way that just isn’t possible on YouTube.
In theory, as a marketer, if you want your video ad to be seen by a specific demographic – however narrow – then Facebook is by some distance the best platform to do this. This brings engagement into play as a video marketing metric, whereas in the past ‘views’ have been the only real measure of success.
It’s perhaps unsurprising that Mixpo research recently suggested that more advertisers are planning to run video ads on Facebook than on any other platform – including YouTube.
There’s also the slightly less tangible argument that the top brass at Facebook just generally don’t make business mistakes. This is a business juggernaut with a history of great decisions, and they tend to pick the right battles.
They’ve seemingly identified an opportunity to establish themselves as the industry leader in online video, and begun to aggressively pursue it – to the point where they’re reportedly trying to entice top YouTubers to head over and create content on Facebook.
This fierce statement of ambition alone should at least be enough to put YouTube on high alert.
Not quite as it seems
But…there’s more to this story than is immediately evident. A lot of industry commentators primarily point to Facebook’s impressive 4 billion daily views as an indicator of the platform’s success and potential for video oligarchy.
The problem with this statistic is that ‘views’ are defined very differently by Facebook and YouTube. Facebook counts a video as ‘viewed’ after just 3 seconds, while YouTube sets the bar ten-times higher at 30 seconds.
And, with Facebook’s Autoplay function, it’s really difficult to gauge how many videos are being consciously and deliberately played and consumed.
So what data do we actually have, here, to claim that Facebook is on course to surpass YouTube as a video platform? The stone cold answer is, ‘not much.’
The facts are that YouTube continues to grow at a reported rate of one hour of video per second…it’s searchable, unlike Facebook, making it a great vehicle for video discovery…and, as you’d expect from any brand owned by Google, it remains inherently linked to SEO.
Comparing apples with oranges?
Ultimately the biggest problem with comparing Facebook video with YouTube at this point, is that they’re serving up two completely different user experiences.
Facebook is a social network designed to let us connect and catch up with our family and friends.
YouTube, on the other hand, has been specifically designed as a platform for viewing and sharing videos.
There’s even an argument to be made that the insular, family-and-friends experience we expect from Facebook may preclude it from ever becoming a direct competitor to YouTube, without fundamentally shifting its function as a network.
So, is Facebook really any closer to toppling YouTube? At this point, you’d have to say ‘no.’ Only a fool would write off Facebook and say it isn’t possible, but, right now, with question marks over the metrics, and so much distance to cover, YouTube still sits pretty on the throne of digital video. But, as always, when faced with direct and aggressive competition – particularly from a company the size of Facebook – vigilance is definitely required.
As a final thought, perhaps the biggest winner in this story could be us marketers; as Facebook and YouTube compete for ad dollars, we’re likely to see prices tumble. This will drive down prices and give an increasing number of businesses the power to unlock the many benefits of branded video.
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