Red Vs Blue

FB To Conquer YouTube’s Hold On Ad Dollars?

Aug 27, 2015 · 6 min read

by Louise Tierney, Journalist @Storyful

The colours blue and red have been vying for supremacy for decades; GOP vs. Democrats, Jedi or Sith, and now, Facebook or YouTube. Although Facebook and Google butted heads in the past, this is the first time the battle has been taken to Google’s back door: YouTube, watch out. Facebook is coming.

Image Courtesy of MobileClause

Facebook just reached new heights, drawing over a billion people to the site in a single day. Earlier this year they announced an increase to four billion views daily, YouTube’s place on the online video throne was challenged. Facebook followed with a series of announcements to court some longtime YouTube- subjects: video makers and advertisers. Facebook made an announcement which laid out how they would monetize videos and share revenue with creators at the same percentage as YouTube. In addition, Facebook changed its ad sales policy to give advertisers a wider range of options, allowing them to pay for video ads only if users view them for more than 10 seconds.

Have no doubt about it, YouTube should be worried. Facebook entered the ring swinging, not just as a contender for audience views, but for the grand prize — digital ad dollars. It is now possible that a video can now ‘go viral’ on Facebook alone, bypassing YouTube. Two years ago, few would have foreseen that reality.

Storyful is a YouTube partner and one of Facebook’s biggest publishers. We decided to look at data available to us from our own use of the two websites. We analyzed both platforms over the past five months to examine what, if any, distinctive patterns in virality had emerged. The patterns that emerged from the data were both fascinating and surprising in what they revealed:

1: Not Quite Two Peas In A Pod

It turned out our top 10 videos, in terms of views, were completely different on both sites. We examined the top 20 performing videos on each site, and found only one overlapping video, this horse reunion:

This was our 13th most popular video on Facebook, and 17th most viewed on YouTube. The YouTube version vastly out-performed the Facebook version by a factor of almost 14.

Of our top 50 videos on both platforms, only four overlapped; Fritz failing to catch, a nine-year-old eating the world’s hottest pepper, and a snake loose in a kitchen. Although there was not the expectation both lists would match exactly, the difference between the two was surprising.

2: YouTube In Front, But Are They Hitting The Wall?

Looking at the numbers, it emerged that our top 10 performing videos on YouTube had 1.5 times the views that our 10 highest performing Facebook videos had. Although this leaves YouTube the victor here, the gap is a lot closer than one may expect, given websites’ tendency to embed YouTube videos rather than Facebook videos. The range of the overall performance difference widens when the data is further analyzed. When looking at overall performance of the top 50 videos, YouTube outperformed Facebook by more than 326%.

3: Different Strokes For Different Folks

When we looked into performance of specific types of content, significant discrepancies emerged in what most appealed to audiences of the two sites.

Facebook: Storyful’s Facebook viewers can’t get enough animal content; 50% of our top 10 videos showed animals in some form. We were surprised to find videos featuring kids, normally a heavyweight category, didn’t feature at all in the Facebook top 10, and made up only 2% of the top 50.
YouTube: A much wider range of content genres populated YouTube’s top videos. The three that resonated most with our YouTube audience were kids, surprise proposal/pregnancy announcements and a range of spectacularly disgusting videos, suggesting YouTube viewers have much stronger stomachs than those watching our content on Facebook. Animal videos accounted for less than 20% of the top 10.

4: Men Are From Venus, or YouTube

The differences between Facebook and YouTube continue into the gender demographic. Storyful’s YouTube channel trends 70% male, 30% female. On Facebook, female fans are dominant, 54% female to 46% male. The age profiles of Storyful viewers also differed by platform: Overall our YouTube audience is younger in general (66.1% of all our views are under 35. On Facebook, 64% of our viewers are under 35). Looking at each platform separately however, Facebook video most appeals to the teens, with the biggest chunk (29%) of our viewers being 18–24. On YouTube, our biggest age bracket was the advertiser’s favorite, 18–24 year olds:

YouTube, on top, shows a strong male bias while Facebook skews the other way.

5: Worlds Apart

Geographically, US viewers are our biggest fans by a landslide on both platforms. It was interesting to note was where our next largest audiences were based. On YouTube second, third and fourth spots went to the UK, Mexico and Canada respectively. On Facebook, Thailand, Brazil and Philippines.

These are just a few of the emerging differences between Facebook and YouTube as it pertains to Storyful content. All the recent developments in the online video industry provide advertisers not only with an extended range of platforms to advertise on, but with much greater choice and control over ads. Competition between the global giants as they compete for ad dollars is likely to lead to more competitive reporting systems on ad spend, which will further serve brands’ interests. For those spending valuable ad dollars, however, there is more to consider than ad dollars:

Forget size. Time matters!
Both companies have a different definition of how to measure “views.” On Facebook, a view is counted after a video is played for three seconds, with all videos set to autoplay. This means all videos that appear in the Newsfeed will be counted as a view, regardless of whether or not they are actually watched. Facebook created new options for advertisers allowing them only to pay for video views that last over 10 seconds, even though they are still autoplaying. On YouTube, a view is usually counted only after 30 seconds. YouTube limits pre-roll ads only to videos over 30 seconds in length, however. Videos do not autoplay by default, but once a video is watched, the next one will autoplay.

Front or Back?
YouTube offers the advantage of pre-roll ads, the industry norm, but Facebook have bucked the trend, providing ads after the content. This, so far, has proved to less popular with a lot of advertisers. On the plus side, Facebook’s users are all logged in and registered on the site generating a much greater data set, which allows advertisers to target specific audiences with a degree of accuracy YouTube can’t guarantee.

So, YouTube and Facebook are vastly different animals, and publishers and brands need to recognize this for successful marketing campaigns on whichever platforms they choose. There are some similarities too though. When we researched successful posts on both platforms, some lessons shone through. Positive content rules the roost. Short videos are always more popular. And, of course, celebrity endorsements never hurt, especially if it is a sportsperson.

The last lesson for advertisers? Keep an eye on advancements in both before committing to a big ad spend. Facebook are chomping at the bit, introducing new features for companies every day, from the introduction of GIFs for pages to revamping Notes. YouTube have made big upgrades to their web player, improving consumer experience massively.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both platforms for those spending ad dollars. Based on their target audience and content type, either platform may suit their needs more. It will be interesting to watch this space as advertisers begin to pick sides. Red or Blue?


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Storyful is a social insights & content company that analyzes social data to find what’s real, what’s relevant & what’s valuable for our media & brand partners.

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