What Facebook Must Do to Win the Video Battle

Five Strategies for Facebook to Compete with YouTube on Video

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There has been plenty of buzz about Facebook challenging YouTube for digital video supremacy. But Facebook's recent momentum still pales in comparison to the mighty YouTube, which has over 1 billion video viewers worldwide.

YouTube still reigns as the video hub of the universe -- people watch hundreds of millions of hours of video on YouTube each day and the number of hours of video watched is up by 50% over 2014. Furthermore, YouTube is the world's second-largest search engine behind its parent Google, cementing its status as THE place to find videos.

So how can Facebook truly rival YouTube? Here are five key areas that Facebook must improve in order to win the video advertising battle:

1. Search. One of the biggest problems Facebook has is that users and content owners cannot easily find videos on Facebook, even ones they have seen in prior days in their news feeds. As Facebook generally only shows people content that has been shared or interacted with by people in their networks, it can be difficult to find content users may have heard about through word of mouth, even if that content resides in Facebook somewhere.

In contrast, YouTube's excellent search capabilities make it easy for people to discover new and existing videos quickly and easily. Fortunately for Facebook, as its audience growth has continued to surge, fixing search represents a huge opportunity. Whereas Google attempts to understand what you are looking for (against a vast sea of information), Facebook could create the ultimate "personalized" search experience, driven by micro-search indices dynamically built and updated for each individual user.

2. User experience for video. While Facebook continues to make improvements to its video-viewing experience, it still has a long way to go to be best-in-class. For starters, Facebook could create a video-centric user experience instead of offering a news feed that just happens to include video. On desktop, Facebook's "lightbox" video player is a step in the right direction. Additionally, Facebook must address certain user-experience issues such as video load times and related content recommendations, which we touch on below.

3. Content recommendations. Recommending the right content to users can have a dramatic positive impact to both their perception of your property and also to the time spent and amount of content that users interact with. YouTube has been tweaking its video recommendations from its very inception.

Facebook certainly has the power to keep on the pulse of what's hot right now, but its content recommendations have a lot of room for improvement. Facebook not only can improve the quality of its content recommendations, but also their appearance. Content recommendations could be shown in more places, once the quality (and hopefully click-through rates) improves.

4. Tools for content owners. Facebook has received flack for driving views on the back of content ripped from YouTube and other sites without content owner permission. Facebook cannot truly be a global video leader if it does not provide enhanced tools to protect content owners, including an improved content ID service to give content owners assurance that their content is 100% protected. Ironically, YouTube also grew on the back of pirated content, but it has worked hard on its content ID program (and relied heavily on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act).

5. Content delivery performance. Every millisecond that users wait for a video to load or buffer is a chance for them to lose interest and navigate away from your property. No one knows this better than YouTube. Its research indicates that for each millisecond of load time improvement, it could gain millions of additional views per day. YouTube subsequently has built out and operates a private Akamai-esque content delivery network focused on video distribution. Facebook will have to dramatically improve video load times and performance in order to truly content with YouTube.

Over time, we will see Facebook and YouTube converge in many ways, even as they currently occupy opposite ends of the spectrum for things such as user experience (discovery vs. search), content (of-the-moment vs. evergreen), and network (your "friends" vs. everyone who uploads content). Facebook will improve search and begin to become a true hub for video. At the same time, YouTube will evolve more as a personalized experience for users, perhaps even with a "news feed" of trending content for people with similar interests. Users want both breadth and relevance in video, and we have two juggernauts running straight at each other to try to provide it to them.