Facebook’s pivot to video hasn’t just burned publishers. It didn’t even work for Facebook ”Nieman Journalism Lab


The phrase “pivot to video” has become a joke, a shorthand for a media company’s ultimate effort to turn things around before layoffs start.

“Today’s metrics are tomorrow’s punchlines, and the pivot of yesterday is today’s awkward fall,” Vice Union tweeted on August 26, following the company elimination of 17 employees in Vice and Refinery 29.

The layoffs were preceded, just a month earlier, by an announcement from Vice that it would “reduce the number of old-fashioned text articles on Vice.com, Refinery29 and another site owned by Vice, iD, from 40 to 50% ”. while increasing videos and visual stories on Instagram and YouTube “by the same amount”.

It all feels like five years ago. As we’ve documented, starting around 2016, Facebook executives, including Mark Zuckerberg, began to push for the idea that Facebook news videos were a bright future for publishers, a “new Golden age “.

It turns out that the metrics Facebook was using to measure engagement with news videos were flawed, massively overestimating the amount of time users spent consuming video ads. In 2019, Facebook settled a lawsuit with these advertisers, paying them $ 40 million (while not admitting any wrongdoing). But it was too late for editors who had already switched to video on Facebook and then made big cuts or shut down altogether when it turned out people weren’t actually watching.

And now we have more evidence they weren’t looking, in the form of a tidbit of the Wall Street Journal’s ongoing large-scale investigation of a mine of internal Facebook documents. In a story posted Wednesday, Keach Heagy and Jeff Horwitz discussed how user engagement with Facebook started to decline in 2017. Turns out the video didn’t slow the decline, but may in fact have contributed to it. :

Comments, likes and shares declined until 2017, while ‘original release’ posts – the paragraph and photo a person can post when a dog dies – continued a year-long decline. ‘no intervention seemed to be able to stop, according to internal memos. The fear was that users would eventually stop using Facebook altogether.

A data scientist said in a 2020 memo that Facebook teams had studied the problem and “never really understood why the metrics had declined.” Team members ultimately concluded that the prevalence of video and other professionally produced content, rather than organic posts from individuals, was likely part of the problem.

Facebook’s solution? Build up the anger! It worked where everything Facebook Live didn’t.

There’s one way the 2021 video pivots and layoffs are different from the previous round: Executives don’t mention Facebook anymore.

“Across all of our news brands, we are seeing a steady global growth of text articles as a way to reach and develop new audiences,” Cory Haik, Vice’s digital director, wrote in that termination note last month. . “Alternatively, our digital entertainment brands like NOISEY and MUNCHIES have seen a remarkable increase in views and engagement via our visual platforms (YouTube, Instagram) but a steep decline in text consumption over the past few years, from about 75%. “


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