Video streaming numbers reported by Nielsen on Facebook have been devastated after a change in the way they are measured in the wake of the misreporting scandal last year, with streams plummeting 94%, Nielsen NetRating figures obtained by Mumbrella reveal.
Last year the digital industry was rocked by the admission by Facebook that it had vastly overestimated its video views based on people watching as little as three seconds of a stream.
Separately, Facebook had also change the way it delivered videos to audiences.
As a result Nielsen was forced to review the way it measured Facebook streams after Facebook changed the way they were delivered from a single stream to delivering in packets to improve user experience, with Nielsen counting each segment delivered as a separate video stream.
The revelations prompted Nielsen to revisit the way in which it measured video streams on Facebook.
Early reports suggested the over-reporting could be by as much as 80% and in October Nielsen changed the measurement method. However, the revelations that Australian video streams had dropped by 94% over the course of a single month are far worse than many predicted.
The numbers raise the possibility that the widespread belief that Facebook had overtaken YouTube as the video platform of choice may never have been correct.
The overestimation of streaming on Facebook, which had previously counted streams of three seconds or longer resulted in the changes by Nielsen that now measure video streams of all lengths.
Nielsen measured Facebook streams of 8.6b in July last year, 12.506b in August and 9.94b in September.
But in the months after the change, the numbers have plunged to just 560m in October and November and 580m in December.
The drop in total streams due to the change came despite the fact the unique audience for Facebook remained constant throughout the same period with an average of 6b.
Nielsen rejected a request from Mumbrella for the total Facebook streams from the months of July-December 2016 rejected the request and supplied only the numbers from October.
Media buying agencies appear to have reacted immediately to the changes in Facebook’s numbers, with data from Standard Media Index (SMI) revealing spending targeted specifically at video on Facebook dropped 32.4% in the past three months of 2016 compared with the same period in 2015, while spending on YouTube grew 11.9% during the same period.
By comparison, video spending for the previous three month period had risen by 30% for Facebook.
Measurement of total YouTube streams by Nielsen throughout the same six month period saw streams fluctuate between 2.6b to a high of 2.8b and a low of 2.4b (desktop only) and saw a drop of 14% from October to November.
The revelation that the number of streams is just a fraction of what was previously being reported is likely to accelerate calls for better measurement of data being provided by digital platforms and increased third party measurement.
The new figures are also likely to turbo-charge the debate around the efficacy of online advertising at a time when traditional media platforms such as TV, print and radio are fighting a rearguard action against the likes of Google and Facebook.
A spokesperson for Nielsen said “it was not appropriate” to compare the numbers.
“Our engineering team created a solution that would count progressive streams as one stream per view. The solution was released on October 1, 2016,” the Nielsen spokesperson said.
Facebook declined to comment on the Nielsen numbers, saying all questions should be directed to Nielsen.
One industry observer analysing the figures said that while they were expecting a drop in streaming figures as a result of Nielsen’s changes to its measurement of Facebook, the results were surprising.
“I knew they were wrong but I didn’t realise how wrong,” the media specialist said.
“It throws out all Nielsen’s figures before October 2016.”
In November, the Australian Association of National Advertisers warned that Facebook must guarantee independent measurement or face global action from marketers.
Update 4.45pm: Facebook has responded with a comment from Steve Lockwood, Head of Marketing Science, Facebook Australia:
“This was a technical difficulty that Nielsen faced almost a year ago, and has since overcome. As trust and transparency with our partners are paramount, we are committed to working with Nielsen and other partners to ensure that their verifications of Facebook metrics are accurate and stay concurrent with our platform. We encourage a close working relationship with our measurement partners in order that any challenges they face are resolved, as has been the case in this instance.”
At last year’s Mumbrella360 conference, outspoken marketing Professor Mark Ritson argued strongly that Facebook’s video numbers were “a tsunami of bullshit”. (Go to 15:50)