We’re in the midst of the great pivot to video, meaning viewing metrics are more important than ever. But what counts as a video view on social media? The answer depends on the platform.
The Media Rating Council (MRC) viewability standard for a digital video minimum view is when 50 percent of the video pixels are in view for two consecutive seconds, although they are currently considering whether to up this to 100 percent pixels in view, a change that could come by the end of 2018.
Facebook and Instagram used to count views at the three second mark, but Jason Hsiao, co-founder and chief video officer of Animoto, predicts they are shifting to adopt the current MRC standard, along with Twitter and LinkedIn. Facebook began offering two-second ad bids on videos in March 2018.
“It sounds like most of them are trying to standardize,” said Hsiao. “Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn all say they report a video view the same way which is two continuous seconds, or at least 50 percent of the video pixels, the real estate of the video, is actually in view.”
YouTube has never specified exactly how long a video must be played to count as a view, although it’s widely believed to be around 30 seconds. Instead, YouTube uses an algorithm to count views, which aims to differentiate between natural human views and those initiated by computer programs.
The company has been candid about how this reflects in view counts, in January 2018, saying “To verify that views are real and accurate, YouTube may temporarily slow down, freeze, or adjust the view count, as well as discard low-quality playbacks.” The view count freeze is most likely to occur in the few hours after a video is uploaded, as the algorithm cautiously determines which are legitimate views.
Its refusal to explicitly say how long a video must be watched to count as a view could be seen as an effort to get video creators focused on other, more meaningful metrics, ones that will help bolster videos in terms of suggested viewing, such as the amount of subscribers viewing a video shortly after it is released. That’s not to say that Watch Time is not an important metric to analyze, but the view count alone will not tell a marketer if their video is resonating with audiences.
“It’s important to understand the goal of each video or video campaign,” said Hsiao. “So if a million people are watching it but nobody’s actually buying what you’re trying to sell in the video, then it’s probably not an effective video.” In other words, if viewers are tuning out before the video gets to an important call to action, it matters little if the video had a high view count.
Hsiao’s advice to marketers to avoid being penalized if a platform suddenly switches up the criteria for counting views is to diversify your portfolio, so to speak, not put all your resources into trying to orchestrate one viral video. “More and more of what we’re seeing is companies are literally starting to make videos every day, so there’s less risk.”
He suggests focusing on achieving the calls to action in the video, and frequently creating video that is consistently engaged with by your audience through likes, shares, and comments, which algorithms will respond to more than views alone.
“If you’re producing content that you know is genuinely interesting to your audience, then you’ll win in the long-term because consumers will just flock to wherever they’re finding value.”
As for how video metrics will progress in the future, view counts may become moot, with platforms in a battle to gain ground over video, and the mediums in which they display it in a constant state of flux.
“This year we’re literally hearing nonstop about Instagram. We’re even hearing that the feed is going to disappear and it’s all going to move to Stories,” said Hsiao. Stories, incidentally, are counted as a view immediately, as the viewer’s intention by opening them is clear.
“Video as a form of communication will transcend whatever the flavor of the month platform is. So I wouldn’t say there’s any risk in a company being great at video.”