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On Facebook gunning to go “all video”

TechCrunch TechCrunch 15/06/2016 Natasha Lomas

Reminder: Facebook is continuing to promote video content on its primary platform at the expense of the written word.

Quartz reports Facebook’s Nicola Mendelsohn, who heads up its operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, telling a conference in London yesterday that in five years’ Facebook will “probably” be “all video”.

She also apparently suggested 360 video will be “commonplace” and VR is set to grow. (Albeit Facebook owns the virtual reality outfit Oculus Rift so the company would say that.)

“The best way to tell stories in this world, where so much information is coming at us, actually is video,” she is quoted as saying. “It conveys so much more information in a much quicker period. So actually the trend helps us to digest much more information.”

“We’re seeing a year-on-year decline of text… If I was having a bet I’d say: video, video, video,” Mendelsohn added.

But of course, much like the arena in The Hunger Games, Facebook’s walled garden is an environment entirely under its own control.

So Mendelsohn is hardly hazarding a guess of what Facebook users will be choosing to do in future — but rather underlining that Facebook’s strategic imperative will be to continue to promote video on its platform over and above other types of content, given that video is a richer medium for displaying advertising. See also: Snapchat…

(Publishers who have been placing their written words onto Facebook’s platform, via its Instant Articles format, take note: Facebook cares very little for your words.)

Also note, for example, that Facebook has all but excised the messaging function from the main Facebook apps and its mobile site — concentrating the written words that Facebook users still love to share into specific app silos, like Facebook Messenger. (Actually sending messages via the Facebook mobile site still works in some geographies, though not, apparently, in the US anymore.)

Also worth remembering: mobile data is not necessarily the commodity it is in the US in all parts of the world, so an “all video” Facebook platform would likely be slamming the door on many of those under-connected people the company has otherwise apparently been so keen to onboard.

So a rather more realistic scenario here is that the main Facebook app goes ‘all video in the US and select other developed markets‘, while remaining a far more mixed entity elsewhere.

In any case, for all Facebook’s claims of ‘declining text’, the sharing of the written word remains in rude health online. After all, Facebook is not getting ready to retire Messenger is it?

Indeed, at its own F8 conference this April, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that combined activity on Messenger and WhatsApp (its other big messaging app) is now three times the global volume of SMS messages; with some 60 billion messages sent per day vs 20 billion SMSes.

SMS in decline, sure, as people are switching to more fully featured texting platforms. But text messaging in general? No chance. People are messaging each other more than ever before. (Thinking about it, perhaps Instant Articles would have a more natural home within Facebook’s messaging apps, where people already spend most of their time reading other people’s words.)

Bottom line: The written word is not in decline, it’s just in decline on Facebook’s main platform because Facebook has a strategic imperative to encourage users to consume video content there.

And in order to try to condition and concentrate its users’ attention and eyeballs on consuming video, Facebook has been algorithmically promoting videos and demoting text-based content by doing things like preventing users from sending messages in its main app.

It’s not humans getting bored of words, it’s Facebook throwing the levers of control to carve out some space for video consumption, with the aim of creating its own highly engaged rich video arena (a la Snapchat) amid all the word-swapping people continue to do as they communicate with their friends.

“All video”, then, is Facebook’s aspiration for its primary platform. But that says nothing about the reality of human communications. They’re a whole lot more complicated. Conversation is a multi-format activity and a many-headed beast. And that’s not about to change, whatever Facebook might hope to see.

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