We get it, people like watching videos. They’re a good way to make content accessible, and aren’t quite as taxing as actually reading an article, but they’re not the be all and end all of digital content.
So why have hordes of publishers decided to disregard the value of written words and still images and ‘pivot’ to video? Because Facebook is forcing them to.
As Quartz’s John West pointed out: ‘According to Parse.ly, a web metrics company, Facebook is the source for over 40% of referral traffic to publications’ websites.’ Together, Google and Facebook make up 80% of referral traffic for digital news outlets, ‘and Facebook’s share keeps growing’.
So, unsurprisingly, publishers are under a great deal of pressure to submit to Facebook’s every whim. And currently, video gets priority in its newsfeed algorithm.
Last year Mashable laid off its politics team, in its shift towards video. This summer, MTV News shut down all longform reporting; Vocativ laid off all its print editorial staff in June; and, in July, Vice laid off 60 people across various departments – all to give more attention to video.
But what happens when Zuckerberg inevitably changes his mind?
Right now, the average video post on Facebook gets twice the engagement of all other posts, according to data from social media monitor BuzzSumo, so of course brands are attracted to the medium. But it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Facebook recently published a report about how more of its users are emotionally engaging with video. But, as Fast Company points out: ‘Facebook has been shoving video down everyone’s throats – video is everywhere on our news feeds. So it shouldn’t be shocking that people are watching more video and expect to watch more of it.’
In its report, Facebook goes on to reel off stats about how much more excited and inspired its users are by mobile video than TV. But, as Fast Company rightly states: ‘This is all a way for Facebook to sell to marketers that video is the future, without really showing ROI. People feel “inspired” watching Facebook videos. Great! Look at how we force it upon our billions of users and then they watch it.’
That’s not to say that people aren’t watching and engaging with mobile video – but it does mean that when Zuckerberg inevitably changes his algorithm, user attention will shift along with it.
A large motivator for this en masse pivot to video is the pursuit of ad dollars, which makes sense as eMarketer estimates digital video ad spend will exceed $18bn by 2020 (it hit $10bn last year). But the biggest concern the advertisers supplying those ad dollars should have is that this drastic shift is resulting in sub-par video.
Some pieces of content don’t work as video. ‘You can’t just shoehorn one story into the wrong medium,’ says Quartz’s visual culture editor Caitlin Hu. ‘When we do them, we do them because they’re the perfect way to tell that story. It’s a question of what fits best, and in the future of content, that is going to be the question.’
But that hasn’t dissuaded publishers from trying. And forcing content into a video format, when it just isn’t meant to be there, leads to what The Awl’s Silvia Killingsworth calls: ‘a glorified PowerPoint presentation – slides, essentially, with words and pictures that flash... around the screen, sometimes with a shaded overlay.’ She wasn’t impressed, and the unwitting Facebook browsers who click the tempting play button won’t be either.
If a video isn’t good, the viewer isn’t going to stick around through the advert to watch the next bit of it. So, the lesson – you guessed it – is to prioritise quality content over any old video.
‘Kevin Delaney, [Quartz’s] editor and chief, said in an interview recently that when people say that they’re pivoting to video it’s because they don’t know what their business model is,’ says Quartz’s special projects editor Lauren Brown, explaining why Quartz has chosen to publish a hardback book amidst all this video pivoting malarkey. ‘We’ve been doing video for the past two years, it started off as an experiment, and it’s something that’s still important – just like telling stories through written words and photos and email newsletters are important. But none of that has been born out of a desperation for finding new revenue streams.’
So, by all means, make video. Make long video, make short video, make live video – but make sure it’s good video, not video that causes the viewer’s eyes to immediately glaze over.
Here's an example:
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