Facebook tests empowering publishers to deliver ads to Watch

Media partners could use Google and other ad tech to control advertising on the video service

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Facebook Watch wants to give media partners flexibility on selling their own ads.
Facebook Watch wants to give media partners flexibility on selling their own ads. Credit: Facebook

Facebook wants to be friendlier to TV networks and digital media publishers who have shows on Watch by giving these partners the ability to sell ads through their own ad technology, according to advertising and technology executives with knowledge of the initiative.

The social media giant is working with a select group of media companies to test connecting their ad technology directly into Watch so the partners can serve ads programmatically for their shows. For example, a TV network that shares late-night TV clips to Watch would control the ad inventory, instead of having Facebook deliver all the ads, as it does now. TV networks and digital publishers often use third-party ad technology like Comcast's Freewheel and Google Ad Manager to manage and deliver their inventory; Disney recently adopted Google technology as the backbone of the delivery system for its internet ads.

Facebook's efforts to integrate with those third-parties, including a rival like Google, are an indication that it wants to be more responsive to the needs of media partners. Also, Watch needs a jumpstart; even Facebook has acknowledged that the 18-month-old service has failed to catch fire as quickly as hoped.

The service draws 75 million viewers a day, according to Facebook; this is out of 1.5 billion people who use the social network daily. In October, during an earnings call with Wall Street analysts, CEO Mark Zuckerberg had this to say about it: "While Watch is now growing very quickly, we're well behind YouTube and still working to make this a unique people centric experience."

Facebook is investing in its own shows, like reality shows with sports stars and scripted dramas with celebrities like Elizabeth Olsen and Kerry Washington. However ,it also needs TV networks and studios to fill its catalog of content for Watch with shows that advertisers want to support.

"The scale just isn't there yet," says one video advertising executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "It's puzzling how little is going on there."

It is unclear what media partners have been invited into the small test with Facebook. A Facebook spokeswoman says that the third-party ad tech integrations are being evaluated as part of a broader test with publishers that started last year, when it first started letting them bring in their own sponsors to Watch, just not their own ad tech systems. Allowing publishers to run ad campaigns across multiple platforms like Facebook and YouTube as well as their own properties would give them more inventory to play with and make it easier to track how well the ads perform, among other benefits.

Facebook has always tried to keep its ad operation on lockdown, sequestered from outside ad technology built by rivals, like Google, because that raises complications around sharing data about the social network and its users. That's why it, and other equally closed platforms, are often called walled gardens.

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