Facebook had a billion users in a single day. What does that REALLY mean?

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Mark Zuckerberg announced that on Monday, August 24 over one billion people had accessed Facebook. That was a single day record, and FB has not yet updated their “daily active user” (DAU) number that was 968 million as of June 2015. But I expect them to reach a billion DAU sometime this year.

A billion is a big number, but how does it compare to other forms of media?

I can’t seem to find any article discussing that question, part of the problem may be that DAU is only an internet statistic, and most traditional media aren’t measured that way. But I think the comparison is relevant and useful, so I will take a swing at it.

As a start, the global newspaper industry says that 2.5 billion people read print newspapers. That won’t be every day, but it is probably fair to say that perhaps a billion have done it on a single day, likely over the weekend. But that number is likely dropping, and won’t be a billion soon. Estimates of the global TV audience tend to be around 4-5 billion, but not everyone watches every day, so somewhere between 1-2 billion as a daily peak seems about right. Radios are very common in the developed world (75% of homes have a radio) but are MUCH less common in the developing world. I would be surprised if the Facebook number wasn’t bigger than the radio peak. Other forms of media like cinema, magazines and so on would all be much lower still – less than 300 million daily users.

Therefore the Facebook billion is a good number, but not mind-blowingly better, right? That’s true, but we need to remember that TV, radio and newspapers have been around for decades or more…while FB is 11 years old. To reach a billion that fast is pretty impressive!

Next, how does the Facebook billion compare with some other large audiences in the past, especially TV? A broadcaster friend of mine pointed out:

…a billion simultaneous viewers is something television has been delivering for some time around major international events like the Olympics and even the Oscars… A billion viewers was the estimated audience for a single SEVEN HOUR cricket game earlier this year (between India and Pakistan) at the cricket World Cup…

I have a few points to make in response to that:

  1. The numbers that are often thrown around for global TV audience are deeply suspect. FIFA repeatedly claims audiences of over a billion, while the measured number is always much smaller…a few hundred million at most. There is an entire Wikipedia article looking at the likely distortions, with one example being the Kate and William wedding: estimated at an audience of 2 billion, the actual number is likely closer to 300 million. The Elvis Aloha from Hawaii broadcast of 1973 was claimed to reach a billion people…but the population of countries receiving the broadcast was only 1.3 billion, and a 77% reach seems unlikely.Aloha_from_Hawaii_Via_Satellite
  2. Next, broadcasts like the Olympics, moon landings or Royal weddings are highly infrequent events. It appears that Facebook will be delivering a billion people on a daily basis soon. That ability to connect with a billion people every single day of the year is impressive.
  3. More importantly, even if a billion people watch a sporting event worldwide, they are doing so across tens or hundreds of different broadcasters. The billion that Facebook gets is from a SINGLE CHANNEL, owned by a SINGLE COMPANY.
  4. If I were trying to buy advertising space to capitalise on a billion people watching a TV show, reaching that audience would require me to negotiate with multiple broadcasters. That fragmentation doesn’t exist with Facebook – it is a “one stop shop” to reach a billion.

Where does that leave me? After more than a week thinking about it, and doing a deeper dive on daily users of other media, as well as other famously large global audiences…I am now MORE IMPRESSED by the Facebook billion users than I was before. There was a lot of hype over that number. But the reality is even bigger than the hype.

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