Lawsuit Alleges Facebook Inflated Video Ad Viewing Times for Over a Year

Rachel England, Engadget:

It all comes down to the way Facebook initially reported the average viewing time of video ads. During the original investigation, it was found that the company only counted video views that lasted more than three seconds when calculating its “average duration of video viewed” metric. Views under three seconds weren’t factored in, thereby inflating the average length of a view. Facebook disclosed the issue in 2016, claiming it had “recently discovered” the error.

After reviewing some 80,000 pages of internal Facebook records, obtained as part of court proceedings, Crowd Siren now claims that Facebook had not only known about the issue for over a year, but had massively underestimated its miscalculations. The company told some advertisers it overestimated average time spent watching videos by 60% to 80%. The plaintiffs, however, believe that figure is much larger, and that average viewership metrics had been inflated by as much as 900%.

This occurred at roughly the same time a bunch of publishers decided to “pivot to video” — that is, to lay off reporters, writers, and editors and hire a bunch of video producers in their place. Over a longer term, it became clear that this change was driven by ad dollars rather than audience interest, to great detriment to the industry.

It’s a terrible idea to be dependent on traffic from platforms beyond a publisher’s control; it is also awful that Facebook — allegedly — failed to correct the effectiveness of their video platform for a year while paying publishers to buoy it.

See Also: Laura Hazard Owen, Nieman Lab:

It’s impossible to say whether media executives felt the way we did, or whether they actually did watch a lot of news video and truly believed it was the future. What is clear, however, is that plenty of news publishers made major editorial decisions and laid off writers based on what they believed to be unstoppable trends that would apply to the news business.