A group of small advertisers is suing Facebook, claiming the social media giant overstated the demand for video on its site.
For the advertisers, what matters is whether the social media company was shooting straight about the metrics they used to decide how they spent their money. What may matter more to the rest of us is whether anyone really wants all this video, Leonid Bershidsky argues in a Bloomberg article.
What matters to the world at large, and to news organizations in particular, is, as Laura Hazard Owen of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University has pointed out, whether Facebook has used inaccurate metrics to convince the publishing industry to stress video content to the detriment of reading matter.
I’d even argue that, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not important whether or not the data Facebook used to build up the video hype, which caused some news organizations to invest heavily in video production rather than writers and other producers of written content, were faulty. What matters is whether users want all the video that’s being dumped on them today — or whether media managers should rethink the pivot.
First was Upworthy, once a beneficiary of Facebook’s algorithmic largesse, which rang in 2016 with 14 layoffs, part of a move into “original video content.” Four months later, Mashable laid off 30 employees in a pivot to “non-news video content.” That November, Fusion laid off 70 people, in part because big bets within social video did not generate enough revenue.
In February 2017, Thrillist’s parent company let more than 20 people go, but was “continuing to dream in video.” In June 2017, Vocativ laid off 20 editorial staff members “in an organizational shift to an entirely video-first strategy.” Later that month, MTV News laid off at least nine employees and freelancers, “with an eye toward creating more video.” Fox Sports also released 20 writers and editors on the same day, “replacing them with a similar number of jobs in video.” The next month, Vice fired 60 employees while promising to focus on video production. In August, Mic dismissed 25 people from its news and editorial departments to refocus on “new mixed-media formats in social video.”
But then the bets on video started failing. After firing its writers and editors in June, Fox Sports had hemorrhaged 88 percent of its audience by September—a staggering feat, as traffic to sports websites usually grows when football returns. That month, Digiday reported that a “side effect of the pivot to video” was “audience shrinkage,” citing similar declines at Mic and Vocativ. Some of these traffic slides have continued: In April 2018, Mic’s traffic sat at 5 million uniques, down from 17 million a year earlier.