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Facebook Gets Brands Ready for 6-Second Video Ads

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Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said tests with Tropicana showed that shorter video ads were better.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said tests with Tropicana showed that shorter video ads were better. Credit: Jason Alden/Bloomberg
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Facebook is working with some of its advertisers to develop video ads as short as 6 seconds, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said Wednesday.

Video was top of mind for Sandberg and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as they discussed the company's second-quarter earnings on a conference call with Wall Street analysts.

Facebook's 47% surge in ad revenue from the quarter a year earlier, to nearly $9.2 billion, owed in large part to strength in both video and mobile advertising. And those two components are tightly linked, according to the executives. "Video is an important part of our mobile strategy," Sandberg said.

Video also is changing the social network, how people consume content there and the way advertisers think about reaching them.

Facebook has already been telling its video advertisers to hit people with faster messages. Sandberg said on the call that 6 seconds emerged as an ideal ad length in a recent test conducted with Tropicana.

Tropicana compared the results from Facebook ads that were 6, 15 and 30 seconds long. The shortest saw "higher brand metrics across the board," Sandberg said.

Six-second ads are becoming a standard format in digital media, championed by YouTube and recently embraced by Fox, to combat consumers' ad avoidance.

Facebook is refining its video ad products as part of a broader overhaul of the platform. It has expended its experiments with mid-roll ads that interrupt live video and video on demand to include more U.S. publishers, Sandberg said. Facebook shares revenue from those ads with publishers.

The company is also bracing for a squeeze on ad inventory in the second half of the year, partly because it has almost saturated its main News Feed but also because its emphasis on video could transform how people use Facebook.

More time watching video means less time scrolling through the News Feed, and fewer opportunities for ad impressions along the way.

"The economics are quite different from the current feed-based business that we have," Zuckerberg said.

Zuckerberg was cautious in the call with analysts, and said there are still real questions about making video work. But Facebook promised that it would continue to invest heavily in video, as expected.

Facebook has been in talks with multiple media partners to produce shows for the social network and get more people watching video for longer. Reality shows, sports and even scripted series are in the cards, and Facebook is expected to release its first lineup of programs by mid-August, according to Bloomberg News.

Analysts, for their part, seemed more concerned by Facebook Messenger and whether that could turn into a real business quickly enough to offset any growth problems. Facebook is early in its efforts to cash in on messaging, Facebook executives stressed.