Is Facebook Lying About Video Views?

I’m a professional maker of online video and I love platform diversity of every kind. I am excited to expand our strategy onto Facebook, though I’m a little annoyed that watching a YouTube video on Facebook is laborious and Facebook shows a complete disinterest in actually sharing them with my followers (unless I pay them).

But Facebook is super enthusiastic about sharing my native Facebook videos with my audience, and so I guess that’s what I’m going to give them. And the results have been great! On a recent video I uploaded both to YouTube and Facebook, I saw around 300,000 views on YouTube and 150,000 on Facebook. Basically, I’ve increased viewership on that video by 50% just by going through the upload process a second time!

Or did I?

Here is the retention graph for “19 Ways Not to Suck on the Internet” on YouTube. This is actually pretty bad retention for a Vlogbrothers video, we tend to keep more than 70% of viewers until the end of the video (or the beginning of the endscreen, which is a bit like a burned in post-roll for stuff we’re doing these days.)

And heres the retention for the same video on Facebook. After 30 seconds, instead of 86% viewership, we see 21%. It’s around this 30 second mark that the graph starts to resemble YouTube’s graph, indicating that this is the point at which people are actually watching the video. Before that, I’m willing to bet that 80% of viewership is simply the affect of Facebook’s auto-playing of my video as people scroll through their feeds.

In fact, I was a little bit shocked to find out that Facebook counts a view as a view after the first three seconds whether or not the user has activated the audio for the video. I figured that actually listening to the content (rather than just staring at what is at that point just an animated GIF) would be necessary to count a view. Indeed it’s not.

YouTube has been vague about how they count a view, but they’ve said that it’s counted after “about 30 seconds.” Facebook on the other hand is explicit, they count it as a view after three seconds of a silent, auto-played video. I should at least give them credit for being transparent about their misrepresentation.

There’s been an awful lot of big numbers thrown around regarding Facebook’s foray into native video in the last month. Four billion views per day last quarter! Creators are seeing tremendous growth, and I don’t doubt that Facebook will be an important part of the online video ecosystem, but these numbers do not reflect reality, and I’m fairly certain that this is intentional on Facebook’s part.

That’s a problem for creators trying to standardize rates for brand integrations, for agencies and brands trying to understand this constantly shifting landscape, and for everyone who wants a little more stability in the online video industry (which, I guess, does not include Facebook.)

For now though, every time someone says something about Facebook’s magnificent video growth, I’m going to divide all of the numbers by five before comparing them to YouTube.


Hank Green makes YouTube videos for a living. He also runs a merchandise company for internet creators (DFTBA Records), a conference for internet creators (VidCon), and his crowd-funding platform for internet creators (Subbable) was recently acquired by Patreon.