Facebook is practically synonymous with explosive growth–with one notable exception. An examination of comScore’s U.S. online-video rankings from 2010 reveals the red-hot social network has mysteriously nosedived by nearly 30 percent over five consecutive months after topping everyone but Google (NSDQ: GOOG) as early as last August (see chart after the jump).
In December, Comscore (NSDQ: SCOR) measured 41.1 million unique visitors for Facebook videos, good for sixth among all ranked sites. It’s a steep comedown from August, when Facebook registered 58.5 million. The website has also registered steady declines in other comScore video metrics like the number of video sessions and minutes per viewer.
Facebook’s rise in the video rankings had been hailed as yet another indication of its internet dominance. Note that comScore doesn’t count videos viewed via YouTube that are embedded on Facebook; those are credited to Google, which is far and away No. 1 each month due to juggernaut YouTube.
Facebook has never really said much about its video strategy. Last year, execs have told NewTeeVee more than 20 million videos being uploaded to the social network each month – and more than 2 billion videos being watched. And nearly 40 percent of its video uploads come from webcams.
There’s no clear answer as to what’s going on here, and Facebook does not comment on third-party data. But there’s a few possibilities to mull over.
First consider what comScore says. Asked to explain the drop, a spokeswoman for the research company replied, “Facebook is up 33 percent year over year. So we’re thinking this might be a seasonality trend, a winter decline from the summer months. This is very typical for TV networks.”
If that’s the case though, wouldn’t other sites be dropping as well? No other sites are declining with the severity of Facebook, though Viacom (NYSE: VIA) is currently experiencing a three-month downturn. No. 4 site AOL (NYSE: AOL) has skyrocketed over the same time period, likely as a result of increased focus on video in the Tim Armstrong regime. Meanwhile. No. 2 Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) has bounced up and down in recent months.
It may also be worth noting that Facebook’s drop likely isn’t representative of some overall decline in the internet video universe. In contrast to Facebook’s sharp drop, that number has actually been relatively flat in the latter half of 2010, drooping to 172 million in December.
That could mean there’s some kind of zero-sum effect playing out here, but then who’s going up if Facebook is going down? The likeliest culprit would be Vevo, which has been increasing nearly every month that Facebook has been in decline. Vevo peaked in December with 50.6 million, behind only Yahoo (53 million) and the invincible Google (144.8 million).
“It could be more Facebook users are steering traffic to Vevo as opposed to consolidating it on Facebook,” said Paul Verna, who follows Facebook as an analyst with eMarketer.
Verna also points to the fact that comScore recalibrated how it measures video in June, which may have triggered some kind of artificial increase for Facebook over the summer. But that wouldn’t explain the subsequent decline for the rest of the year.
It should be noted that few put much stock in the accuracy of any online measurement, though comScore is maligned least. It would have been nice to compare comScore’s numbers with Nielsen’s, but those numbers aren’t available due to statistical errors that have forced the company to re-evaluate most of its online data last year.
Asked what he made of the decline, one executive at another Top 10 video destination who wished to remain anonymous, offered a more controversial theory: The downward trend may be completely accurate, but given everything else going on at the company right now that turning those numbers around just aren’t a priority. As he put it, “Facebook has much bigger fish to fry right now than video.”