Revised Nielsen NetRating data has revealed the discrepancy, following admissions by Facebook late last year that viewership and audience numbers on streamed content had been overinflated, misrepresenting its market reach.
The social media platform had been counting one view as three seconds of played video, regardless of the video’s length.
Initial estimations believed that the figures had been inflated by about 80 per cent, but the Nielsen research has found the difference to be as high as 94 per cent.
The correction in the way Nielsen counted video views saw total Facebook streams fall from 9.94 billion in September to 560 million in October.
Until this point, many believed that Facebook had overtaken YouTube as a video platform.
While no one is disputing the figures, Facebook says the miscalculation was not made by the social media platform. This is confirmed in a statement by Monique Perry, head of media at Nielsen.
“The issue is solely Nielsen-related and concerns the measurement and calculation of video stream counts using panel metering technology,” she said.
“It is unrelated to Facebook’s internal or self-reported metrics. Due to the advanced nature of digital audience measurement in this market, Australia was the only market impacted.
“The issue was limited to stream metrics in Nielsen’s hybrid streaming solution and did not impact any other market-facing Facebook numbers reported by Nielsen.”
The revised data, however, opened up the debate over the reach of social media platforms, after the Facebook disclosures last year.
Steve Allen, of Fusion Strategy, said this week the actual audience reach needed to be revealed. He believes companies are entitled to receive some form of compensation for being misled.
“The company boards should be asking their CMOs or their marketing directors or their digital experts how their company money has been potentially misspent and what those executives are going to do to fix the problem” he said.
In terms of the blind leap by advertisers into social media, Mr Allen said: “We can all see looking over our shoulder what a disaster this is and one has to come to the conclusion that the right people in the right positions weren’t asking questions.”
Facebook first introduced platform-based advertisements in 2012 and it has become one of the biggest tools used by advertisers. However its reach has been challenged by a number of industry leaders, including WPP founder Sir Martin Sorrell.
Sir Martin questioned the effectiveness of advertising on digital platforms like Google and Facebook, criticising the relatively low audience measurement standards used online, compared to the engagement of newspaper media.
“About half of all video is watched online without the sound. The scale that is used for viewership is three seconds. Now that I would even say is ludicrous in relation to the hurdle that a TV viewer … or newspaper readership has to reach,” he said.
Procter and Gamble, one of the world’s biggest advertisers, also has called for greater transparency. The chief brand officer for the consumer goods company, Marc Pritchard, told the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s annual leadership meeting in Florida last month of new rules P&G would apply to its digital advertising.
The company aims to have full transparency with digital agencies by the end of 2017, he said. Mr Pritchard also will re-examine its media-agency fee structure to ensure that money is effectively spent.
One of the major issues faced by digital advertisers is that there is no standardisation – despite guidelines by the US Media Rating Council – as to what is considered one impression on online media platforms.
While Mr Pritchard acknowledged that digital is the way of the future and that “the days of giving digital a pass are over,” he affirmed the need for collective industry action.
“It’s time to grow up. It’s time for action” he said. Brands like P&G no longer “want to waste time and money on a crappy media supply chain”.
In terms of Australia, Fusion’s Steve Allen said the local industry could play a role in achieving better transparency, accountability and measurement.
“Some of the people that could put some of the rigor into the local industry are asking searching questions and I am sure they are going to use whatever is collected to try and force some change” he said.
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