“In five years, most of [Facebook] will be video.”
That’s what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in November. What he said this week during the company’s earnings report supports his prediction. Facebook users now watch 3 billion videos a day—more than three videos per each active user per day.
That’s more than triple the number of videos viewed in June. The company said that 65 percent of Facebook video views occur on mobile devices.
Zuckerberg specified in the call this week that “one of the big trends will be the growth of video content on our service.” Facebook isn’t just noticing user behavior. It’s working hard to make it happen.
Facebook appears to be algorithmically favoring News Feeds posts that contain videos. The evidence for this is that while videos in Facebook News Feeds have gone up 3.6 times, the number posted has increased by only 75 percent globally and less than 100 percent in the United States.
The increase in actual posting of videos is dwarfed by the increase in video posts actually surviving the filtering algorithm gauntlet, strongly suggesting that Facebook is playing favorites with video posts.
Facebook isn’t alone. Twitter is also making a big push for video. If you recall, Twitter bought the six-second video creation tool Vine in late 2012. But that didn’t satisfy the powers that tweet.
The company rolled out this week a more sophisticated video creation, editing and posting tool that adds a video button to the main Twitter app. Pressing it enables users to create, compile, edit and post up to 30-second videos to Twitter from their smartphones.
Twitter clearly wants—desperately wants—users to rethink what Twitter is and how it’s used—as a container for sending videos, rather than tiny snippets of text.
Snapchat is doing something similar, but using a totally different strategy. And it has to be said: It’s a brilliant strategy.
Snapchat launched on Jan. 28 a new video series called SnapperHero, which are mini two-minute videos created by popular YouTube and Vine stars. Snapchat is a messaging service, famous for its self-destructing text, photo and video messages.
SnapperHero is brilliant because it leverages video stars to teach the Snapchat-using public how to create fun and entertaining videos to send to their friends (instead of boring old text messages and pictures). They’re pushing role models out and expect users to emulate the attitudes, behaviors and—most of all—obsession with video that the viral video celebrities will demonstrate.
Snapchat also announced this week something called Discover, which pushes “Snapchat Stories” to users from National Geographic, Yahoo News, Comedy Central, People magazine, Scripps Networks Interactive’s Food Network, CNN, Warner Music, ESPN, Vice, DailyMail.com, Cosmopolitan and others. These include videos from these media organizations.
Instead of self-destructing in 10 seconds as most Snapchat messages do, Discover videos will last for 24 hours.
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.
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.
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.