Facebook Preps Mid-Roll Ads, But What About UX?

“When are we going to come up with something better than pre-roll?”

It’s a question marketers have been asking on and off for a decade, acknowledging that pre-roll video ads are both annoying to consumers and easily ignored. Now, Facebook is reportedly preparing a new mid-roll placement that promises to make it harder for consumers to ignore video ads.

Mid-rolls are an increasingly popular format already employed by a number of publishers – but is Facebook putting its all-important user experience at risk?

Details about the new mid-roll ads are admittedly scarce, but an early report from Recode suggests viewers will start seeing video ads automatically after at least 20 seconds of viewing content, including videos that appear in their News Feed, and will only appear in videos with a minimum length of 90 seconds.

That’s a good thing for users if publishers feel compelled to create more engaging content that gets viewers to watch for at least 20 seconds. And it's a good thing for advertisers, since they are guaranteed an engaged viewer.

But it also raises a whole host of questions.

First, will publishers be able to craft videos that have a natural break after just 20 seconds? It’s hard to imagine any approach to producing videos that can both hook the viewer, but then almost immediately break for a commercial.

Alternatively, if the timing is flexible (as seems to be the case) will publishers get to choose when exactly the mid-roll ad begins to play?

Mid-roll ads might make sense as interstitial units appearing periodically within, say, a compilation of shorter videos – an approach plenty of publishers are already using. However, a 15-second ad appearing in the middle of a 90-second clip is bound to be disruptive to the user experience, especially as most viewing on Facebook is still shorter form, “snackable” content.

By the same token, if viewers can simply skip the ad and return to their content right away, what real difference is there from a (also skippable) pre-roll ad?

Perhaps a disruptive user experience is simply unavoidable in video advertising – TV has been that way for a long time – but Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has always made it a priority to avoid annoying users. Mid-roll ads definitely seem like they run that risk.

Or are these concerns unfounded? I’d be interested to hear what readers think about mid-roll ads, both from a marketing and a personal consumer perspective.

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