Will Video Kill the Text Content Star?


MTV’s first music video, The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star,” became stuck in my head when I read that Facebook EMEA VP Nicola Mendelsohn declared that Facebook will be “all video” in 5 years. Mendelsohn said that text has been declining every year and that Facebook users now view videos 8 billion times per day, up from 1 billion a year ago. Apparently, Facebook thinks video will kill off text, sooner rather than later.

Along with the song, I had that declaration in the back of my mind when, 4 days later, I read “6 in 10 of You Will Share This Link Without Reading It,” about research from Columbia University and the French National Institute. Their computer scientists found that 59% of shared links on social media have never been clicked open, meaning that people are sharing news they haven’t read.

Aside from the disturbing fact that people are taking information as fact without actually investigating its contents, in many cases, these shares determine which news trends and which fades away. “People are more willing to share an article than read it,” said study co-author Arnaud Legout. “This is typical of modern information consumption. People form an opinion based on a summary, or a summary of summaries, without making the effort to go deeper.”

To me, it seems that these two revelations are at odds. It is hard to believe that people—who, at most, want to scan an article and parse out the main points in a few minutes—would be willing to watch an entire video to try to determine what they need to know. If they don’t believe they have time to read, how do they have time to watch—which can often take much longer? The larger issue is the fact that, according to an April report in BuzzFeed, Facebook pays news organizations $250,000 for a 3-month stint of posting 20 videos per month, creating an incentive for these companies to invest in video production. Also, according to a document reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Facebook awarded a $3.03 million contract to The New York Times for 1 year of broadcasting live. How does that bode for the future of text?

Again, I am struck by a disconnect between videos and users. On the one hand, Facebook’s research shows the popularity of videos, prompting it to pay producers to create them. On the other hand, according to Adweek, 94% of YouTube viewers skip preroll ads as soon as the first 5 unskippable seconds are up. The content is not mutually exclusive. As Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times writes (in “Don’t Believe Facebook: The Demise of the Written Word is Very Far Off”), articles written about “the coming dominance of video” are done from a marketer’s standpoint. Yes, a lot of videos are viewed, but they are usually produced in order to try to get someone to buy something. Those videos probably don’t discuss anything that would be useful to a business researcher (company financials or corporate strategy, for example). They are basically commercials.

The third phenomenon in the back of my mind (actually, it is always in the front of my mind) is Big Data and whether the insights gleaned from it are well-portrayed by video.  When I talk about communicating insights from Big Data, I usually default to storytelling. Mendelsohn believes this is best done in video, because it “commands so much more information in a quicker period.” Really? I think we can tell a story with data much more quickly and, more importantly, in a way that is more engaging, effective, and motivating by using print graphics and compelling text. As Hiltzik writes, viewers have to allow video to “unspool frame by frame to glean what it’s saying,” whereas text can be “absorbed in blocks.” Therefore, I would argue, it’d be better remembered.

There is also an issue with professional research. Facebook does archive live videos; two-thirds of this content is viewed for the first time after the live broadcast. But will the archive contain all videos? And even if the archive is extensive, as of right now, there isn’t a good way to find historical videos. There are, however, myriad ways to search for text. That may change in the future, of course, but 8 billion videos viewed per day? Now that is Big Data.   


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