Share: Buzzfeed Watermelon Video And Correcting Online Viewing Metrics

By | May 12, 2016

Having just sat through a Facebook Live account rep’s pitch yesterday at the office, this reax piece about online video analytics hit close to home. (If you haven’t watched the video… don’t bother, but it’s featured below for reference.)

From Kevin Draper’s post on Gawker earlier this week…

If BuzzFeed’s watermelon video had been measured the way a TV show is, its viewership would’ve been closer to zero than the 807,000 it trumpeted to advertisers. Viewership started off low and took 45 minutes to build to that 807,000, and few people watched the entire video; many tuned in for five or 10 minute blocks at the end. Facebook’s metrics also wildly inflate the number of people watching a given video, as they count somebody as a viewer once they have been watching for just three seconds, and by default Facebook videos autoplay as you scroll to them in your feed.

FX research chief Julie Piepenkotte, quoted in Variety article

“That’s like the two-second view that we see in digital currency right now, which is creating an extraordinarily false narrative and a meaningless narrative,” Piepenkotter said. Applying the same metric to her network’s offering, “The episodes of ‘O.J. Simpson’ to date would have been 143.9 million hours viewed and 259 billion views.”

Nielsen President Steve Hasker: It’s Time To Put TV And Digital On An Even Playing Field (comments from Sept. 18, 2015)

In TV, the standard measurement unit for viewership is the average-minute audience — how many viewers there are in an average minute of content. In the digital space, on the other hand, video measurement is commonly expressed as the gross number of times the video is viewed, even if only for one minute or one second. These two metrics are quite different, and comparing one to the other unfairly tilts the comparison against TV.

In our second example, the 2014 World Cup on ESPN had an average-minute TV audience of 4.6 million persons, and received 115.5 million digital views. But 4.6 million for TV and 115.5 million for digital is the wrong comparison—if we translate digital viewership into a TV metric, the average-minute digital audience of the World Cup on ESPN was 307,000, representing just 7% lift of the TV audience.

Gawker: Facebook not yet delivering the demographic background agencies expect on buys:

Leaving aside digital video’s low viewership when measured like TV, advertisers don’t even look at TV ratings the way everybody else does. They buy ads based mainly upon C7 ratings, which measure how many viewers watched commercials as they aired and up to seven days after. And more precisely, they care about the number of a specific type of people watching the commercials—the key demographic. Most generally, the key demographic is people 18-49 (or 25-54), as they’re the ones with disposable income to spend on whatever advertisers are selling.

Facebook can’t tell you this; more precisely, they can, and someday will, but currently won’t. Were those 807,000 people concurrently watching BuzzFeed’s watermelon explosion young? Old? Men? Women? Facebook won’t say.


None of this should be read as supportive of Nielsen, a private, for-profit company whose ratings are absolute garbage. Its statistical methodology is opaque; its sample of homes isn’t anywhere close to truly random; its ratings rely to some degree on self-inputted data; its ratings don’t take into account communal television viewing at places like bars and airports; and Nielsen struggles to capture the entire universe of “television” so far as it takes in DVRs, streaming services, mobile devices, and so on.

It is worth noting that the most successful Facebook Live videos so far have essentially been gimmicks; the type of things more palatably referred to as “content” than “journalism.”

And that, right there, is likely to be the future of digital media, and increasingly its present too. Multimedia production shops that very much resemble TV studios—and make no pretense at having a wall between reporting and advertising—thriving, while more traditional journalism shops attempt to eke out a hardscrabble existence.