Facebook's Commercial Breaks Are Ready for Primetime

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Facebook Live is just one place where the social network will place mid-roll commercials.
Facebook Live is just one place where the social network will place mid-roll commercials. Credit: Courtesy Audience Network
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This commercial break is brought to you by … Facebook.

On Thursday, the social network expanded its "mid-roll" video ads program, where it splits money from commercials with video creators on its properties and off.

"We want to help our partners monetize their premium video content both on Facebook and on their own websites and apps," Facebook's product monetization team said in a blog post.

To that end, Facebook said it would extend its new mid-roll video ads, which run like commercials in the middle of digital video, to "eligible" outside publishers.

The ads will come through from the Facebook Audience Network, the company's ad tech pipes that control the auction and delivery of ads.

Facebook also has been serving these ads into select live videos and inside on-demand videos from a small group of publishing partners.

Facebook gives publishers 55% of the ad sales when they run on its own properties, but does not disclose the revenue split from ads running on publishers' own sites.

Facebook is exploring the mid-roll ad format, because it has to ramp up the money it can promise creators on the platform. It wants to attract higher-quality content and hook viewers for longer as it competes with YouTube, Snapchat and Twitter for the ad dollars that follow.

All the digital players are going after potentially lucrative deals with sports leagues, TV studios and news sites, which need to see a return for their content. This week, Reuters reported Facebook was looking to stream live Major League Baseball games.

The social network also works with A&E Networks and other outlets to run their digital video ads on platforms like Apple TV. It's all part of the shakeup of traditional viewing habits shifting away from TV and the rise of programmatic advertising servicing this new digital viewership.

Facebook is competing with Google to grab more of this market, where digital ad dollars will surpass TV for the first time in the U.S. this year -- $82 billion to $72 billion, according to eMarketer.

Facebook believes it has an edge because it can target individuals with better data honed from its social network, delivering more personalize ads. In Thursday's announcement it claimed to generate higher ad value than competing ad tech pipes.

One of the drawbacks, however, for publishers is that Facebook controls the auction for ads, putting a distance between the media company and the advertisers. They typically prefer close personal ties fostered by sales teams.

A number of publishers have said that Facebook and other digital properties are starting to pay off.

Facebook has rules around how and where video ads will run. Pages need at least 2,000 followers and 300 viewers per video to join the Facebook Live program. Twenty-second breaks can come after four minutes, and at five-minute intervals after that.

The length requirement is meant to encourage higher-quality video programming, and it could encourage more participation from personalities as YouTube has discovered.