With Facebook video, the aggregators are winning

Glance at a list of the most popular Facebook video pages, and you’ll quickly come across media entities you’ve never heard of outdrawing marquee brands. Vlechten met DaanFunk YouSoFlo ComedyFortafy Fans — publishers that boast a combined 2.2 billion views on Facebook last month.

Vlechten met Daan bills itself as an “online magazine” focused on lifestyle topics, beauty and health. It specializes in typical Facebook video fare: cooking recipes, how-to for arts and crafts and hairstyle tips. Although it has no physical office address — “we don’t have a physical location at the moment but we are open to the idea,” it says — Vlechten met Daan has more than 23.3 million fans on Facebook and did 1.1 billion views in March, according to Tubular Labs. And yet Vlechten met Daan’s website — remember those? — is not big enough to be measured by comScore. Welcome to the new world of Facebook video, where an early land grab has benefitted those more adept at aggregating content than producing original video.

In the Facebook era, a page run by a handful of people can become, almost literally, an overnight video juggernaut. It also points to the murkiness and ephemera of Facebook video. The truth of these video juggernauts is much of the content that gains those millions views isn’t created by them. That’s not to say it’s stolen — although some of it is, according to content creators — but for now, Facebook tends to favor aggregators of other people’s content.

A bulk of Velchten met Daan content comes from external creators who allow it to distribute their videos. In fact, the last 24 videos from Vlechten, which says it has an internal content team, are sourced to other YouTube creators and Facebook pages. Two creators, Cheeky Crumbs and Italian Cakes, confirmed that they gave Vlechten permission to use the video in exchange for promotion. Neither were compensated, unless you count exposure.

“They did approach me and ask if they could post a shorter version of my video to their Facebook page and credit me and link to the full video on YouTube,” said Irene of Cheeky Crumbs. “I agreed as it has increased my visibility quite a lot.”

And yet, on Facebook, it’s Vlechten met Daan that’s getting credit for the views. To be sure, other publishers like The Lad Bible and Unilad have used similar tactics to scale fast on Facebook. In fact, of the top five on Tubular’s list of Facebook video publishers, only BuzzFeed’s Tasty and Tastemade rely exclusively on original content.

The issue even extends to personalities like S. SaintFortafy Fans and SoFlo Comedy. Each page generated well over 500 million views in March alone, according to Tubular Labs. Scan their pages and it becomes clear that most — if not all — of the videos were not made by them. (In some cases, credit is given to the original content owner.)

“I wouldn’t blame people for resenting them,” said Oren Katzeff, head of programming at Tastemade. “An aggregation model more often than not is going to be the model that scales more quickly.”

Vlechten met Daan insists it has the rights to all its content. But that’s not always the case. Funny Videos, Uber Humor and Funk You Entertainment have been singled out by content owners, speaking on the condition of anonymity to Digiday, as Facebook “freebooters.” (None of the channels responded to requests for comment.)

“It’s fraud and it’s hard to tell how big of a problem it is. Some of these pages are not pages you normally see on Facebook — and there are a lot of them out there,” said one publishing executive. “We’ve even seen stuff pop up on our friends and family’s news feeds without our name on it, and then they’ll share it with us and say, ‘Hey, this would be great for you.’”

With no steady ad system in place on Facebook, publishers have been willing to give the platform some slack as it tries to weed out the freebooters. But now that Facebook has loosened its grip on branded content, the issue becomes more immediate.

“The danger of the aggregations is that down the road it leads to monetization complexities,” said Katzeff. “You can’t monetize content that you don’t own unless you have some type of agreement that allows you to do that — and you certainly can’t monetize content that you put on your channel in an unauthorized fashion.”

But that’s down the road. For now, the name of the game on Facebook, especially in video, is to build to scale. The open question is what happens once Facebook video is a big business. It was a little different with YouTube, which built a rights-management system while facing down lawsuits from major media companies like Viacom. Facebook, criticized by digital creators and publishers for freebooting, has moved faster.

“People are ripping things off and building pages. In a world that’s not monetized, maybe it’s not a big deal yet, but we all know monetization is coming,” said Beth Le Manach, vp of original video programming at YouTube network Kin Community. “When it does, the fear is that the aggregated pages will be able to build [a business on Facebook] sooner.”

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