Here come the Facebook pre-roll video ads

For years, Facebook executives have said they don’t want to run “pre-roll” ads — ads that run before you get to watch the video you want to play — because users don’t like them.

Now, Facebook is going to start running pre-roll ads.

Important: That doesn’t mean your News Feed is going to be full of video ads you didn’t ask to see. The pre-rolls, which will run for up to six seconds, will only appear on videos in Facebook’s “Watch” hub, where it is hoping you will go and hang out because you want to watch Facebook videos.

Facebook says it will start formally testing the format next year. (Ad Age first reported the change.)

Facebook launched its Watch hub earlier this year, using “mid-roll” ads (another ad format Facebook tried to avoid for a long time). The fact that they have added pre-rolls — the format used around the web and the one advertisers are most comfortable with — should be read as an admission that the mid-roll ads aren’t generating significant revenue for Facebook or the publishers putting video into Watch.

Speaking of those mid-roll ads: Facebook now says they won’t appear until later in videos and they’ll only run on longer videos.

It says the ads (it calls them “ad breaks”) can’t run until a minute into a video, and they can only run if the video is at least three minutes long. At first, the ads could run after 20 seconds and on videos as short as 90 seconds. Message: If you want to run more ads on your videos, make longer videos that hold people’s attention.

I would write more about the logic behind Facebook’s move to pre-rolls, but luckily I don’t have to, because I’ve already discussed it with Tony Haile, the Professional Digital Media Smart Guy who is now CEO of Scroll, an ad-free digital news startup. I talked to Haile for the Recode Media podcast in October, and he was convinced that pre-rolls were coming to Watch in short order. Here’s the relevant bit:

Tony Haile: [Facebook] faces a number of challenges around video being the kind of revenue driver for them. The problem on the News Feed side of things is that pre-rolls are probably the most successful video ad format, but News Feed, unlike YouTube, is a passive discovery mechanism. And so if you were to do pre-rolls, you would literally just have a feed of pre-roll things. Which no one would consume.

And so they have to go with mid-rolls in News Feed. But the problem is that the mid-rolls, people don’t tend to get to or they switch off as soon as they go to and just move onto the next thing, and so we’ve seen reporting in the newspapers recently, in the trade press, around how little money people are making from the mid-roll side of things.

So Facebook knows that it has that problem, which is why it’s created Watch, which is this whole new tab where they can say, “Now we can do what YouTube does, which is we can do intent-driven video. And with intent-driven video, we can start to do pre-rolls, we can’t start to make some real money around video.”

Peter Kafka: Have they said they’re gonna do pre-rolls for those?

They’re going to do pre-rolls.

You’re intuiting it? Or?

I’m intuiting it.

——

Good intuition, Tony.


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