Social Networks Crave Video Advertising Riches
The social sites' push to video isn't really about video. It's about attention. All sites, and especially the social sites, are in an arms race to create the most distracting content. Attention is finite, and therefore the distraction wars are a zero sum game. Distracting a user for 10 minutes means not only gaining 10 minutes for your own company, but taking away 10 minutes from the other guy's. That's why Facebook sees itself in direct competition with YouTube, for example. YouTube is often categorized as a social site. But most users don't engage socially there. They just watch videos. When users are watching videos on YouTube, they're not being distracted by Facebook. That's a problem Facebook wants to solve by turning Facebook into a source for videos. Ultimately, the video-watching behavior is about advertising dollars because video advertising is also more distracting, compelling, memorable and viral. This is why video advertising costs much more and attracts premium brands that normally advertise mainly on television. But as the social sites learned from YouTube's success, users are much more amenable to watching video advertising if they're already watching a lot of videos anyway, which is why Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat are driving so hard to promote videos.When Facebook bought the virtual reality startup Oculus VR, Zuckerberg said that virtual reality "is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures." It's also the ultimate advertising medium. They're going to put you into that new car where you can look around and see what it feels like to drive. They're going to sell you beer by putting you into a trendy bar filled with trendy people. They're going to sell you virtual reality experiences by letting you try a few minutes of what they're selling. It's a hackneyed cliche that advertising-supported social media turns the user into the product. That's both true and not true. But the important thing to understand is that it's true from a product development standpoint. Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat (and others) are building a better user. Changing user behavior is product development, and each social network is going about achieving that goal in different ways. The ultimate user for Facebook and the other social networks is the user who spends all their time and attention on Facebook, who does all their interaction on Facebook and who gets all their advertising from Facebook. To achieve that, Facebook needs to take over the mind of the user—to win the war for attention and become the most distracting place on the Internet. That's why all these ambitious social networks are pushing video.
Once they succeed and the main behavior of social networking involves watching and making videos, the next step is virtual reality—the only thing I can think of for the Internet that's more distracting and immersive than videos.