clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Facebook wants you to watch longer videos, so it’s going to show you longer videos

Because that’s what’s on TV.

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and co-founder of Facebook Inc., attends the annual Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference, July 6, 2016 in Sun Valley, Idaho.  Drew Angerer / Getty Images
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

You know how mobile + social is supposed to = short attention span?

No more, says Facebook: It says it is going to start rewarding video makers who create longer clips.

This is a shift — yet another shift — from Facebook, which kick-started its move into video by crediting video publishers with a “view” if someone watched something for a minimum of three seconds.

That reward system, coupled with the fact that Facebook automatically plays videos for people when they show up in their feeds, trained Facebook publishers to make videos with Things That Grab Your Attention Right Away. Not surprisingly, many Facebook publishers report that completion rates for their videos are often quite low.

Now Facebook will still credit publishers with a view after three seconds. But it is tweaking its News Feed algorithm to emphasize longer videos that are able to retain their audience; the longer they hold them, the more likely Facebook is to promote them. (Update: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Facebook would require video watchers to finish a long clip in order to give it increased News Feed credit.)

This is part of a broader move Facebook has been making to emphasize “watch time” — a metric that its rivals at YouTube have long championed. Facebook won’t come out and say this, but the obvious goal here is to take attention, and ultimately ad dollars, from television.

That’s why Facebook is rolling out a new “mid-roll” advertising format for videos, but only for clips that are at least 90 seconds long. As I told you earlier this month, “Facebook is telling publishers that in order to make money, they need to make clips that go on for a while and keep users’ attention.”

Here’s how Facebook is putting it today, in a blog post:

“If you watch most or all of a video, that tells us that you found the video to be compelling — and we know that completing a longer video is a bigger commitment than completing a shorter one. As we continue to understand how our community consumes video, we've realized that we should therefore weight percent completion more heavily the longer a video is, to avoid penalizing longer videos.”

Note the odd language there about “not penalizing longer videos” instead of saying the more straightforward thing, which is “we’re going to boost longer videos.”

Luckily, Facebook does say just that, in its next sentence: “Longer videos that people spend time watching may see a slight increase in distribution on Facebook.” Thank you!

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.