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Video Wars: YouTube, Facebook & Meerkat

April 13th, 2015 by

Attracted by the social media site’s penchant for building relationships with viewers, brands are increasingly posting videos straight to Facebook. But let’s not dismiss YouTube yet – it’s a superior archive of digital history.

Everybody’s talking about Meerkat, and this time it’s not those stuffed animals advertising a price-comparison site on British TV screens. The Meerkat that’s got the tech world so excited is a livestreaming app, and in a move that speaks volume of its potential: Twitter has even gone ahead and blocked Meerkat users from linking it to their Twitter stream. On the topic of online video, the second-hottest talk of the town is Facebook, which has been the case ever since BuzzFeed chose to post its video scoop of Barack Obama directly on the social network.

So what about YouTube? The video specialist may have created the market for widespread sharing of moving images, but it’s no certainly longer the only game in town for businesses looking to share video content. Not long ago, YouTube would have been the de facto place for BuzzFeed to post its Obama video, and then shared it from there onto Facebook and other sites.

Analysts are now speculating that BuzzFeed’s decision to publish this important video directly to Facebook could be a harbinger of doom for YouTube. “YouTube went from being one-third of the ecosystem to 10% of the ecosystem in a year,” industry forecaster Jan Rezab said during February’s Social Media Week in New York. He added: “Content creators – brands, marketers, media companies – quickly saw that publishing a Facebook video is just more natural.”

One reason for this development is that video-sharing on Facebook is simple, but the social network is also more geared towards building relationships between viewers and businesses. YouTube, however, is still somewhat hampered by its reputation as a place to look at cats in boxes and music videos.

Then there’s the numbers: according to comScore numbers, Facebook looks to have surpassed YouTube in terms of desktop video viewing by 1 billion views last August. This is however largely due to Facebook’s auto-play feature, where a video will start playing without sound the moment a page is opened. Having said that, the stats do show that Facebook videos have excellent reach: video post have an organic reach of 8.7%, according to a study by Socialbakers, compared to text posts at 5.8% and photos posts at just 3.7%, suggesting we’ll be seeing a lot more branded video content on Facebook.

Rezab went as far as predicting YouTube will be surpassed by Facebook as the go-to place for video sharing within six months: “YouTube is the grandfather of video, and Facebook native video is the son.” But brands like GoPro, Red Bull and PlayStation boast millions of subscribers on YouTube, to name but a few. Another important point is how YouTube has an excellent search function, meaning visitors can look for content and easily see related videos suggested, whereas videos on Facebook quickly get buried in the stream as new content is posted. If Facebook is to really surpass YouTube as the king of video, it needs to develop a great search function.

Even if this is the start of YouTube’s demise to the digital scrapheap, we may want to take pause and consider its importance as an archive. YouTube is ten years old this year – that’s a lot of video, and in many cases, the YouTube snippets may be the only reference we have to those events. All this random content may have seemed largely irrelevant at the time, and may even seem unimportant now, but in retrospect it represents a big chunk of pop culture.

Digitising decades of archived work, as has been the task facing every creative company and newspaper, is time-consuming and expensive. A historic parallel is how TV channels would often re-use film, not seeing the point of keeping old programming. Because of this, some of the original episodes of Doctor Who are now lost forever. Doctor Who isn’t a unique situation, but the BBC has been able to restore at least of its archives from fans who had recorded the episodes at home, and kept them on VHS over the years. Today, places like YouTube are to an extent replacing the function of the home video recording. So let’s think twice before dismissing all that YouTube content, as we’d be chucking a big slice of our cultural history.

Come back to the blog tomorrow to hear about Twitter’s answer to Facebook’s play for video dominance…

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