Facebook vs. YouTube: A Look at the NFL's Split Programming Strategy

NFL Has More Videos on YouTube but Gets More Views on Facebook

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The NFL has adopted two different programming strategies for Facebook and YouTube.
The NFL has adopted two different programming strategies for Facebook and YouTube.

Facebook is trying to usurp YouTube as the go-to destination for distributing and watching videos online, and a lot of brands, publishers and other content creators are trying to figure out which videos to put where.

The social network has demonstrated an ability to drive more video views and in a shorter period of time for some media companies than the Google-owned video service. But Facebook has faced questions about the quality of those views and the longevity of its videos' life spans compared to those uploaded to YouTube.

Determining which videos to post and where to post them is a dilemma that everyone -- from publishers to brands to celebrities to sports leagues -- is facing as more people turn off their TVs and tune into their phones.

Consider the NFL. The league has what's widely considered the most premium video content, as evidenced by the 114.4 million people who tuned into this year's Super Bowl. And -- after signing deals with Facebook in December 2014 and YouTube in January 2015 -- it appears to have adopted separate strategies for how to distribute that prized content through its Facebook and YouTube channels.

Ad Age has reviewed the videos the NFL has posted to both channels -- including number of videos, views per video and video lengths -- since cutting the respective deals to see how one of the top content producers is programming for the two services. (Check out individual clips and their corresponding statistics using a tool embedded at the bottom of this article.)

The NFL declined to comment or make executives available for interviews for this story.

Even without the NFL's cooperation, it's easy to see the league is programming differently for its YouTube channel and its Facebook page. As of Wednesday afternoon, it's uploaded 403 videos to YouTube and only 38 to Facebook. The YouTube videos are, on average, 262% longer than the Facebook videos. However, the NFL's 38 Facebook videos have totaled 128.7 million views, compared to 29.9 million for its 403 YouTube videos.

For a fuller picture, here are the views and lengths for each video the NFL has uploaded to Facebook since December 2014.

And here are the views and lengths for each video the NFL has uploaded to YouTube since January 2015.

Without the NFL's cooperation, it's hard to delve into the why of its separate programming strategies. The main questions: Why post significantly more videos to YouTube when Facebook is delivering exponentially more views per video, on average. And why are its YouTube videos so much longer than the ones it's putting on Facebook?

If the sheer volume of views mattered, it wouldn't make sense for the NFL to post so many videos to YouTube where it historically gets fewer views than Facebook. And if the NFL is using YouTube as a sort of testing lab to experiment with different formats, like longer videos, and gauge its audience's interests with different types of content, then it's an odd choice to not also test those videos on Facebook where more people would likely see them. The NFL could use Facebook to get a better sense of those audiences' interests by targeting the organic posts to subsets of its audience as well as monitoring likes, comments and shares to compare with similar metrics on YouTube.

Maybe the NFL recognized something in the difference between YouTube as a search engine for people to find and watch videos when they know they have time to watch videos and Facebook as a place where people thumb through a neverending stream of varying content with a growing tolerance for video but a low tolerance for long videos. Or maybe the NFL thought Facebook might penalize it for posting too many videos too frequently and cluttering people's feeds, thereby cutting its reach as it's done to brands' organic posts.

It's difficult to make a clear apples-to-apples comparison when it comes to the results of its programming strategies. Video views would seem to be a clean metric; content creators distribute their content with the primary purpose of other people seeing that content. But Facebook and YouTube generate and count views differently.

Videos on Facebook begin to play automatically when they appear in people's news feeds, even if they're only half in view. And Facebook counts a view after a video has played for three seconds.

Meanwhile videos on YouTube need to be clicked to play. And while YouTube won't say how it counts views, a person familiar with the matter said YouTube doesn't count a view until a video has played for much longer than three seconds.

To get a sense of how different the videos the NFL is posting to Facebook and YouTube, check out the tool below to cycle through the videos the league has posted to both channels at random.

Facebook vs. YouTube: NFL Edition

Compare one of the NFL's Facebook videos with one of its YouTube videos to decipher the league's split programming strategy. Must be logged in to Facebook to watch the Facebook videos.

Hit refresh to check out more clips selected at random.

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