Facebook Takes Big Steps Toward Mid-Roll Ads

The comfortable glide of YouTube and Facebook toward a more intrusive mode of advertising took a giant step forward--if you think interruptive commercials are a good thing.

Facebook posted three updates to its video monetization schemes. Let’s go right to the the bullet points, from Brian Boland, vice president of Facebook Publisher Solutions and  Maria Angelidou-Smith, Facebook product manager:

--”All eligible publishers can now make money from in-stream video ads on their own Websites and apps through Audience Network.

--”On Facebook, we’re expanding our beta test of Ad Breaks in Facebook Live to additional profiles and Pages in the U.S.

--”We have started testing Ad Breaks in on-demand video on Facebook with a small number of partners.”

Starting with the second bullet point, a small group of advertisers (for now) can insert ads into on-demand videos, after they’ve played for at least 20 seconds. The ads have to be at least two minutes apart, Facebook stipulated, implying more than one ad break is possible.

Facebook keeps 45% of the revenue. But the idea is, viewers are more likely to engage with ads that are interrupting content they want to see as opposed to front loaded into content they have yet to see.

That’s probably solidly true, and if you don’t believe me, ask NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox that worked on that glorious, “Don’t touch that dial! We’ll be right back!” ad model for decades. You’ll notice millions of consumers were happy with that--until viewers discovered any alternative whatsoever.

Facebook will look at the results from these early advertiser adopters with the idea of expanding it in the future. Probably the near future, if it all works out right.

This Facebook mid-roll ads action was hinted at  earlier so it’s not coming from completely out of thin air. It’s likely Facebook’s move here will cause reactions elsewhere, namely YouTube, which has made advertising adjustments of its own recently, banishing the 30-second unskippable ads for one very good reason: People hate them.

At the same time, Facebook announced a more complicated scheme for interruptive messages within live videos. In its Ad Break program, qualified live video streamers will be able to show a 15 second commercial after their live video has played for at least four minutes, and then be able to do it again five minutes later.

Reliably monetizing live video at this point is a little like landing on the Moon was in the 1960s.  It will happen, but it’s kind of hard to imagine.

Getting to the first bullet point last, Facebook's in-stream ad changes might be relevant to a big basket of marketers. Facebook’s Audience Network already places its advertisements into other publishers’ Websites and apps, and has been plugging in-stream ads into that content since May. Now it is now letting other publishers in the Audience Network do the same thing, bought from auctions that go through Facebook and will presumably be safer.

“Publishers have historically been wary of video ads delivered from networks or exchanges because they can load slowly and are often unreliable,” Facebook itself notes.  “With Audience Network, advertisers upload their ads and bids to Facebook in advance—allowing us to quickly run an auction and return an ad that’s a good experience for the person watching it.”
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