Video Wars: Facebook Versus YouTube

posted videos to Facebook over YouTube for the first time.

Facebook may be helping this trend along by favoring videos posted directly to Facebook, rather than videos linked from other sites like YouTube. Many publishers have noticed that Facebook tends to reward such content with higher organic reach than, say, static images or article links, and they have responded by adding more video to their mix in their search for more fans and eyeballs. Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm gives preference to highly shared and consumed content, so in terms of video, that means the number of likes and shares, and – as of June 2014 (just after Facebook ramped up its video presence) – the watch time for any given video. But Facebook claims it can only measure watch time for videos posted directly to Facebook, thus putting non-native videos at a severe disadvantage. This of course may simply be a facially neutral way of favoring its own native content, but it appears to be working: Many video publishers have abandoned posting YouTube links directly on Facebook, as Facebook’s algorithm essentially quashes their organic reach. Instead, creative video publishers have sought to lure users out of Facebook to watch YouTube videos that are embedded on other sites. Whether Facebook will also seek to disfavor this practice remains to be seen.

While Facebook may be catching up in terms of numbers, the two sites still differ wildly in content discovery. People do not go to Facebook to find an old episode of Saturday Night Live or videos of Johnny Cash performing live. At least for now, Facebook simply does not have the search capacity for that. Instead, Facebook’s algorithm determines what videos it thinks its viewers may be interested in: If you like it, you click; if not, Facebook is out of luck. Google-owned YouTube’s searching capability remains far superior, with one study finding that YouTube, at 3 billion searches a month, is the second-largest search engine in the world. At least for now, it is also much easier to go down the rabbit hole of video-watching with YouTube, with its prominently-featured sidebar of related videos. And YouTube is still the place to beat in terms of original content, although Facebook is reportedly aiming to poach some of YouTube’s biggest content producers.

Facebook’s move to unseat YouTube as the video king is not subtle, and we should expect even more focus on Facebook’s blossoming video presence in the months ahead. But with powerful Google behind YouTube, we should not expect this battle to be over quickly.

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