Facebook says it will be 'all video' in 5 years as people abandon text

Speaking about the "decline of text" at a conference this week, Facebook vice-president Nicola Mendelsohn caused raised eyebrows with her prediction that Facebook would be "all video" within five years.

Company predicts the 'decline of text' will lead to 100% video content

Speaking about the 'decline of text' at a conference this week, Facebook vice-president Nicola Mendelsohn caused a stir with her prediction that Facebook would be 'all video' within five years. (Facebook)

In August 1981, a single company changed the way an entire generation got its music, news, and views of the world when it launched with the song Video Killed the Radio Star, declaring radio dead.

MTV and its novel, 24/7 music video channel format went on to become a juggernaut force of culture throughout the '80s, leading a shift in media consumption habits among youth that, rather uniquely, couldn't be credited to a new type of communication technology.

Unlike the telephone, the television or the internet, it was simply a network with a powerful format that shifted, over time, to meet the needs of its audience. Until it didn't.

Facebook can be thought of in much the same way to an extent, only with influence over much more than the music industry.

The social network, which is now ranked the fourth most valuable company on Earth, has fundamentally changed the way more than 1.6 billion people worldwide connect with friends, discover news and express their lives online since 2004 when the company formed.

If any one platform can lead a shift in the consumption of internet content the way MTV did music, it's Facebook. In so many ways, it already has.

But there's more change to come for users, based on what the company's executives are saying — and things don't look good for the written word as Facebook's own, more subtle Video Killed the Radio Star moment hangs nebulously over the entire web.

The 'decline of text'

Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook's vice-president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, was asked about what the network would look like in five years in terms of content, while speaking at Fortune's Most Powerful Women International Summit in London on Tuesday.

"We're seeing a year-on-year decline of text," she told the audience. "If I was having a bet, I'd say video, video, video."

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

While Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other company executives have expressed similar sentiments in recent months, Quartz writer Cassie Werber reports that the atmosphere at the Fortune conference shifted after Mendelsohn's last comment, "perhaps because the written word seems a rather major aspect of civilization to dispatch with so quickly."

Indeed, 24 hours later people are still reacting with horror upon hearing Mendelsohn's prediction that text will eventually be phased out of the world's largest and most influential social network.

Mendelsohn clarified later during the chat that Facebook won't kill out text completely, noting that "you'll have to write for the video."

Still, Facebook's hard push into the world of video hasn't gone unnoticed or without objection from publishers, who feel pressured by an algorithm that gives preference to certain types of content over others, and users who have become annoyed with the influx of video in their feeds.

Videos are now viewed eight billion times daily on Facebook, according to Mendelsohn, up from one billion just a year ago. She also said at the Fortune conference that, on average, 100 million hours of video are watched on Facebook every day through mobile devices.

Facebook Live, the relatively new streaming feature that Zuckerberg is reportedly "obsessed" with, has also exploded in terms of views and engagement. 

Live has become "a bigger, faster phenomenon" than originally expected, Mendelsohn said, though it should be noted that Facebook does pay some news outlets and celebrities to produce them — and an algorithm that gives preference to Live feeds over text posts would certainly affect how many people see these videos in the first place.

Whether it's algorithmic tailoring, the built-in sharing network, or the sheer volume of Facebook users, video published on has become increasingly powerful over the past year.

Anecdotally, the vast majority of "viral" videos we report upon now are either first published to Facebook, or gain enough traction there to warrant media coverage.

If YouTube replaced MTV as the space for music videos, Facebook could replace YouTube as the space for user-generated internet videos.

But even with the power of Facebook behind it, video likely won't kill the written word. The radio star lives on, after all.


Lauren O'Neil covers internet culture, digital trends and the social media beat for CBC News. You can get in touch with her on Twitter at @laurenonizzle.


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