Facebook vanishes flawed report by PwC consultants

30 July 2019 Consultancy.com.au 6 min. read

PwC has pulled a report into the clout of paid advertising on Facebook. Having been hired by the social media giant to provide a “balanced and independent view of the video market”, PwC was hit by ‘numberwanging’, having claimed buying a single ad on Facebook could deliver the same audience as buying ads across multiple TV networks and regions.

In late July 2019, PwC Australia launched a new report commissioned by Facebook called, My Screen: Video Consumption in Australia. The report, which was said to be the first of its kind, was aimed at giving marketers a deeper understanding of what video content Australians were consuming, when, why and how.

One of the boldest claims of the research was that Free-to-Air TV (FTA) was no longer the only ‘reach platform’, with Facebook found to have an equal reach potential of 17.3 million Australians each week. This combined with high frequency of use across the day and new premium longer form content on Facebook and Instagram was said to add further weight behind the notion that mobile video platforms had come of age.

Facebook on-platform video consumption

Andy Ford, Head of Marketing Science at Facebook Australia, said of the findings, “While every brand has its own unique needs and there is no silver bullet, it’s very clear from research that there has never been a more important time for advertisers to review their media buying plans to ensure they are maximising ROI… With Facebook and Instagram, we’re seeing the emergence of video platforms that are able to reach this broad audience, offering significant return on investment by achieving high reach without excess frequency.”

However, despite Justin Papps, Partner of CMO Advisory at PwC Australia claiming that in preparing the research report into the online video marketplace for Facebook, it was “important to look at the whole video market to see how people are actually choosing to consume content,” just three days later the paper had been expunged from the firm’s online presence. The purge of the research occurred following comprehensive criticism of the piece from the television industry.

That’s numberwang

Industry research body ThinkTV even went as far as to label the PwC report “numberwanging” (the act of throwing numbers around while failing to demonstrate why they are of value). ThinkTV issued a number of damning comments to advertising industry outlet Ad News on the matter, concluding that PwC’s numbers had “been used to inflate, some to hide and others to completely bury the real story about video consumption."

The 52-page report’s proposition that Facebook is the platform of choice for video – and support of the notion of reviewing the idea of buying ads across all networks and regions to instead get the same audience from a single buy on Facebook – was slammed by Steve Weaver, Research Director at ThinkTV. He stated that "independently verified data” shows that TV has in excess of “90% reach in any given month”, while people are still on average watching more than two hours every day. Most importantly, he concluded, TV still “has a real strength advantage in capturing people’s attention" in a way social media has not harnessed.

In a statement following the critique Facebook said it had commissioned PwC to provide a “balanced and independent view of the video market”, while asserting that there was not a single source of truth telling the market where people are spending their time consuming content. Despite disputing the notion that organisations such as ThinkTV might be the lone arbiters of fact on the matter, however, Facebook has put a "pause" on the distribution of the report while PwC returned to the study to validate "a very small subset of industry sourced data."

Primary drivers of quality perception

A PwC spokesperson told Ad News the firm had used a study with 3,050 Australian consumers to understand insights across all types of content – broadcast video on demand, subscription video on demand, free-to-air television, social media – and all devices – to bridge a gap in available data. However, the source still stated that PwC “stand by the methodology used in the analysis and the importance of this research. We are currently validating a very small subset of industry sourced data and the report will be reissued once resolved, and that “the majority of the My Screen report uses the professional services firm's own research data.”

Dodgy dossier disappears

In spite of these assurances, all that now remains of the report are third-party write-ups. The report and associated press release have been scrubbed from the internet, leaving many to wonder why they are yet to resurface. Indeed, the lingering controversy could well threaten PwC’s reputation in the market.

While Facebook might have claimed in its press release that it alone had finally commissioned the data on Australia's video-viewing habits, PwC already audits the industry-standard measurements that cover precisely that, put out by the Interactive Advertising Bureau. The consulting firm is also behind the highly respected annual Media & Entertainment Outlook, but PwC's review of a report that has already been released calls into question the way its CMO Advisory actually compiles and analyses its data in other advice it is giving to clients making decisions about where to spend advertising budgets.

This is likely to have been compounded by the Australian Financial Review reporting that sources with an understanding of media metric data said there were "really basic" holes in the report. In what would be described kindly as comparing apples with oranges, the report measured TV audiences over a week versus Facebook over a month, while they did not including use of free-to-air broadcast video on-demand (BVOD) watched via smart TVs, which account for more than half of BVOD viewing.