Pivoting atop a house of cards
‘Pivot to video’ has been the big joke in online publishing for a couple of years. Now the joke isn’t even remotely funny.
In a new lawsuit
, advertisers allege that Facebook failed to disclose the scale it had been overestimating video views for more than a year, and that the size of that overestimation was much bigger than it publicly admitted.
That’s bad news for advertisers, who paid too much for video ads that no-one was really watching. But it’s also devastating news for publishers who, led by the news that video consumption was suddenly huge on Facebook, got rid of their editorial staff and hired video producers.
Sites like Mic and MTV News laid off talented writers to chase video ad dollars that it turns out weren’t really there.
Publishers aren’t without blame. 'Everyone’s watching video all the time on Facebook now’ just didn’t pass the sniff test. You weren’t doing it, other people never talked about doing it, and trains and buses weren’t full of people doing it – it seemed common sense that the video audience wasn’t really there.
And yet, those overseeing dwindling ad revenues at publishers saw the numbers in video and took a business-focused decision – really they had little (business) choice. But it was all based on lies.
“You should look into fraud in ad tech, it’s rife,” a reader of this newsletter told me once, back when I was at TNW. I didn’t have time to dig into it before I left, but he was right. While it would be rash to call Facebook’s case here outright fraud without more evidence, ad tech fraud remains the great under-reported story of the digital age. Perhaps no-one wants to discover just how unstable the foundations of ad-supported media really are.