Facebook apologizes to ad clients for exaggerating video viewing times

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Facebook has issued an apology to its ad clients after reports revealed it has been overestimating the average viewing times for videos on its site — for a whopping two years.

“This isn’t just about this error. This is about how seriously we take our partners’ commitment to our platform, and how their investments with us wholly depend on the transparency with which we communicate,” said David Fischer, Facebook’s Vice President of Business and Marketing Partnerships, in a post on the social network.

“We sincerely apologize for the issues this has created for our clients. This error should not stand in the way of our ultimate goal, which is to do what’s in the best interest of our partners and their business growth,” he added.

Despite confirming the error several weeks ago, a recent report asserted that the inflated metrics were much higher than Facebook initially let on.

Facebook first noted “the discrepancy” last month in a post on its Advertiser Help Center: “We had previously defined the Average Duration of Video Viewed as total time spent watching a video divided by the total number of people who have played the video. But we erroneously had calculated the Average Duration of Video Viewed as the total time spent watching a video divided by only the number of people who have viewed a video for three or more seconds.”

To sum it up, Facebook had been ignoring video views that lasted less than three seconds when calculating its average viewing times. As a result, the figures it provided to marketers were higher (and therefore more attractive) than they would have been if those shorter viewing times had been included. Facebook added that it was introducing a new metric to fix the issue.

Facebook did not elaborate on the scale of the error, however, forcing a number of ad agencies to press the issue. And in response to a request from Publicis Media, Facebook addressed its miscalculation in more detail. According to the Wall Street Journal — which obtained a copy of a letter sent to clients by Publicis — Facebook inflated its earlier average video viewing times by between 60 to 80 percent.

It’s unclear whether Facebook will be impacted by the blunder. The company is downplaying the error, but the sheer size of its platform means even one botched metric is a massive figure. Whether marketers will take this into consideration when buying Facebook ads remains to be seen. A decrease in video advertising revenue would inevitably impede Facebook’s larger video strategy.

Publicis wrote in its letter that Facebook should permit third-party verification of its ad insights. The company signed off with a statement that likely indicates the wider sentiment within the marketing industry: “Two years of reporting inflated performance numbers is unacceptable.”

Updated on 09-23-2016 by Saqib Shah: Included new statement from Facebook.

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