• Facebook Deemphasizes News Feed Video; Users’ Time Spent Drops

    Facebook released its Q4 ’17 earnings yesterday and on the subsequent earnings call, CEO Mark Zuckerberg disclosed that its decision to deemphasize video shown in the News Feed has already led to a 5% drop in users’ time spent on Facebook in Q4. The reduction translates to approximately 50 million hours per day. The viewership reduction was previously indicated by research from Wochit a couple of weeks ago.

    It’s certainly not every day when a service makes an intentional change that leads to reduced usage, but Zuckerberg explained that the drop is worth it to serve Facebook’s higher mission of prioritizing meaningful social interactions over passive consumption of content. As News Feed VP Adam Mosseri said in a recent Wired interview, Facebook has found that video is more passive in nature so it tends not to drive conversations and connections which are prized.

    Zuckerberg echoed these points yesterday, even as he maintained that “News and video will always be an important part of Facebook.” But the recent News Feed algorithm changes are intended to reduce the volume of publisher and viral videos we’ve all come to expect in our News Feed experience.

    Of course, this is bad news for publishers who have been “pivoting to video” and looking to Facebook to drive traffic in the same way it has done for non-video content. Facebook is essentially saying “tough luck” to publishers; it has a higher mission of connecting all of us to fulfill and passive video doesn’t align well.

    But if video isn’t going to be prominent in News Feed, then how will Facebook become “video-first” as Zuckerberg has said over the past couple of years? The answer seems to be in Stories and Watch, the recently launched video tab/destination. Zuckerberg said that Facebook is “continuing to invest to support the video strategy on Watch.”

    He went on to say that, “The News Feed video ecosystem and the Watch video ecosystem are almost completely separate things.” While it is true they are separate parts of the Facebook experience, as I’ve said in the past, they seem inextricably tied, with Watch content’s growth dependent on exposure in News Feed, at least for the foreseeable future.

    For example, I found out about “Tom vs. Time,” the new Watch doc about Tom Brady, by seeing video clips of it in my News Feed. Intrigued, I clicked, followed and watched (and note I didn’t engage with a comment, though I did like). My hunch is that many content providers in Watch are going to be looking for Facebook to promote their shows in News Feed. Is Facebook going to support this or not, since it’s mainly “passive viewing?”

    Taking a step back, I admire Facebook’s determination to get back to its roots of connecting users. It’s just not clear to me yet how this mission is going to align with its stated goal of being video-first, which is intended to help Facebook attract video ad dollars. However, it remains very early days for Facebook, and I don’t underestimate the company’s ability to pull this off.