Facebook is taking yet another step to grab bucks from television advertising budgets.
The social colossus, which counts more than 2 billion monthly active users, starting on Thursday will let agencies and marketers opt to buy video ads specifically for in-stream placement on Facebook, on its Audience Network of third-party publishers and apps, or across both.
Until now, Facebook has only sold those in-stream ads — which are midroll breaks in longer-form content on the service — as part of larger buy that included video ads that pop up in the Newsfeed.
Why the change? “It’s to let agencies and brands drive the most value from their spending,” said Kate Orseth, product marketing manager for media monetization at Facebook. She continued, “It’s really rooted in consumer behavior and what we’re seeing unfold. We see a lot of short, on-the-go video consumption in Newsfeed, and longer-form, lean-back viewing on Facebook [Pages] and offsite via Audience Network.”
To translate: Facebook is making it easier to buy TV-style ads, as it looks to bump up TV-style content on the platform.
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Facebook now has a critical mass of inventory to serve in-stream ads as units separate from Newsfeed, according to Orseth. (The company requires videos to be at least 90 seconds long to be eligible for a midroll spot.) Several hundred of publishers and content creators are employing midroll ad breaks today; those include ATTN:, Business Insider, NowThis, and Tastemade.
As with all its advertising, Facebook sells the inventory. With in-stream ads, it shares a cut of revenue with publishers. Ad buyers can set demographic targets for the audience they want to reach. But they can’t specify which content they want their spots to run against (although Facebook offers a “brand safety” tool to let marketers blacklist sources they don’t want their ads).
Ultimately Facebook wants to bring thousands of creators of longer-form episodic shows to Watch, as part of its strategy to spin the video-ad flywheel. Last week, the company launched a beta test of Facebook Watch, which includes a new tab and features to help users discover and engage with more longer-form video content — on mobile, PC and connected TVs. In addition to content produced by dozens of partners, Facebook will put shows it has funded on Watch (which include Mike Rowe’s “Returning the Favor”; Condé Nast Entertainment’s “Virtually Dating”; and LaVar Ball’s “Ball in the Family”) but those haven’t launched yet.
Facebook says in-stream ads (which can be 5-15 seconds) on both Facebook and Audience Network perform well: More than 70% of those ads are watched to completion. It declined to provide a comparable metric for Newsfeed video ad completion rates, which Facebook says “varies based on the creative and the length of the video.”
Another proof point: NBCUniversal’s Syfy in May 2017 ran a campaign exclusively using in-stream ads for its rebranding initiative to expand its programming scope. The campaign generated an 11-point lift in ad recall and a four-point lift in message association (compared with people who didn’t see the ads) and an average view-through rate of 83%.
On Facebook in-stream video ads are available only as midrolls; they can be bought in both preroll or midroll placements on the Audience Network. Advertisers that have run campaigns with Audience Network exclusively include Innocent Drinks, TD Bank, Warners Brothers Germany and Universal Music (for the U.K. release of Lana Del Rey’s new album, “Lust For Life”). The Audience Network includes mobile web publishers like Vice Media, USA Today, Univision Communications, Washington Post, Forbes, and Daily Mail and app publishers like Pretty Simple. The company doesn’t disclose the total number of partners.
Meanwhile, in a wonkier change to drive up viewing time, Facebook earlier this year tweaked its algorithm that determines which video content shows up in users’ Newsfeeds to favor longer-form content.
The upshot: Look for Facebook to push longer-form video content — which, it’s hoping, will be fully stocked with ads.