Facebook’s video platform is out of the petri dish and approaching parity with YouTube’s dominant digital video service. Top cross-platform video publishers like BuzzFeed, NowThis and Tastemade are posting more videos a day to Facebook than to YouTube, according to an analysis of their respective main YouTube channels and Facebook counterparts.
But the uneven programming cadences don’t reveal the winner of a zero-sum game played between Facebook and YouTube. Instead, they offer a peek at how divergent the two platforms — and publishers’ corresponding programming strategies — have become.
Some of the differences are obvious: shorter videos do better on Facebook, longer ones do better on YouTube. But some are not: sales-driven videos are almost essential on YouTube, but they’re ineffective on Facebook. As a result, while these publishers all originally treated Facebook and YouTube the same way, they have learned, and continue to learn, how nuanced the platforms really are.
In addition to mapping BuzzFeed Videos’, NowThis’s and Tastemade’s video-posting patterns for both platforms, I spoke with executives at each publisher to understand the respective programming strategies behind these patterns. The programming cadences show that these publishers are treating the two platforms differently; the executives explained why.
Originally, there wasn’t much of a difference between BuzzFeed’s main YouTube channel and its main video channel on Facebook. But now, while BuzzFeed Video remains the largest of its handful of YouTube channels,“BuzzFeed Video is not the largest page on Facebook; Tasty is,” said BuzzFeed Motion Pictures Publisher Michelle Kempner, referring to the foodie video property BuzzFeed launched on Facebook last year. “BuzzFeed Video is more of a place to experiment.”
Like many publishers and advertisers, BuzzFeed learned to experiment on Facebook with audio-optional videos and to-the-point programming — the type of programming that has helped boost Tasty’s popularity — because videos on Facebook have to grab people’s attentions as they scroll through their feeds but not demand so much of it that they’re inclined to swipe past.
Quick-hit programming, in particular, said Kempner, is something “you would never make if you were thinking about YouTube first because the YouTube algorithm is suspected … or everyone knows it’s about watch time, so you would never make a short video for YouTube.”
*For* YouTube. But BuzzFeed has started syndicating all of Tasty’s videos to YouTube, where they’re generating hundreds of thousands of views, but not the millions typical of their Facebook versions. “Growing a page on Facebook is very different than growing a channel on YouTube,” said Kempner. “Growing a channel on YouTube is a very long process. So on Facebook we’ve been able to grow more niche pages,” like Tasty and SOML (Story of My Life).
NowThis’s YouTube channel debuted in 2012, but its Facebook page is a more established video channel. The news publisher produces of-the-moment videos, the kind of timely content that Facebook caters to and YouTube isn’t known for.
“Facebook surfaces that content and distributes it and gets it into people’s news feed and allows us to share what’s trending of the day much better than YouTube. YouTube supports content that’s more evergreen in nature,” said NowThis President Athan Stephanopoulos.
Like other publishers, NowThis has seen how many views Facebook can drive — even if the social network has a lower threshold than YouTube for what counts as a view — so it’s easy to justify the larger volume of videos and higher frequency of unique ones it posts to Facebook versus YouTube. “Almost everything that goes up on YouTube is what was produced on other channels like Facebook,” said Stephanopoulos.
But YouTube may not remain a syndication repository for NowThis for long. “You can’t not think about the largest video platform in the world,” said Stephanopoulos. “We’ve been talking and engaging with them about how we can use it better as a news organization.” Other than pushing into more long-form, evergreen programming, NowThis News hasn’t yet figured out what its YouTube strategy will be, but one thing’s for sure. It will be different from its Facebook strategy.
Tastemade has seen firsthand how YouTube and Facebook have grown and diverged. In 2013, the same year the food-and-travel digital video network launched as a YouTube channel, it began programming its Facebook page as well, before Facebook had even officially rolled out autoplay video and once-and-for-all pinned its target on YouTube’s back.
Back then, Tastemade was specializing in original shows, serialized programming akin to TV. “We were probably doing close to a piece of content a day every day or five days a week,” said Tastemade Head of Programming Oren Katzeff. But as Tastemade invested more of its attention across other platforms, like Facebook and Snapchat, it started producing different kinds of videos, like one-off, hands-on recipe videos. That shifted the YouTube strategy about a year ago. “Instead of, say, one show three or four days a week, we started interspersing different formats into YouTube.” In addition to the original shows, it’s mixing in standalone videos starring, and sometimes introducing, its talent, as well as more snackable fare like recipe videos.
“What we’re really trying to do on YouTube now is reintroduce Tastemade. You knew us a food-only, couple-shows-a-week publisher; now we’re much bigger than that,” said Katzeff. “We’ve kind of rebranded the channel to tell our audience, ‘We’re going to give you one piece of great content every single day.’”
Tastemade aims to deliver quality content on Facebook, too, but in smaller chunks at higher volumes. “Generally what we’re seeing on Facebook is more quick-hitting stuff works,” said Katzeff. “Hands-on recipes work. What we haven’t seen on Facebook do as well from a views standpoint are episodes of content within a series.”
That may have to do with the two platforms’ different distribution mechanisms. On Facebook, the news feed necessitates content that can grab people’s attention without needing to hold them for long. On YouTube, people are often searching for something to hold their attention. But what has the attention of publishers like Tastemade is how different the two platforms have turned out to be, which was never out of the question but always a big question.
“Never before has it been more important to not just think about how to create great content but to think about the audiences uniquely on each platform,” said Katzeff. “These are now two gigantic video viewing platforms.”