Facebook Details Its Plan to Test Pre-Roll Video Ads and More Changes

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Facebook will test pre-roll video ads, but will limit them to six seconds.
Facebook will test pre-roll video ads, but will limit them to six seconds. Credit: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Facebook will start testing ads before videos in January, the company said on Thursday.

The ads, known as pre-roll ads because they run before the desired content, will only appear on videos in Facebook's Watch hub, according to Facebook. Watch is where Facebook, media companies and other video creators create channels for shows and video series, and is meant to be a different experience than the traditional News Feed, where pre-roll ads have long been off limits.

"In a discovery environment like News Feed, pre-roll isn't right because people aren't committed to seeing content," says Fidji Simo, director of product at Facebook. "In an intentional viewing experience, where people decide to proactively look for this content, pre-roll could be a good experience."

They will be six seconds long, a length that is gaining traction online and even in some TV programming as marketers strive to keep consumers' attention.

Ad Age reported earlier this month that pre-roll video would be coming to Watch shows. Facebook had long been opposed to the idea of pre-roll, because it risks turning off viewers and discouraging them from viewing content. That's why it is testing the format before deploying it widely.

Facebook's Watch is similar to YouTube, albeit still on a much smaller scale, and ad revenue is shared with the owners of the content.

Facebook wants to create a robust video offering that can compete for the future of TV ad dollars, and needs to experiment with ads to make it lucrative enough for media partners to contribute.

The social network also announced more changes to how Watch will function.

One of the drawbacks to the service was that most of the watching was still happening inside Facebook's feed, where the video creators also post the shows, instead of inside the Watch hub itself. "The majority of video discovery and watch time happens in News Feed," Facebook said in a blog post, acknowledging what show creators have been saying privately for months.

Watch video creators include Time Inc., Hearst, The Atlantic, Vox Media andNational Geographic. Many of the publishers have been getting most of their promotion from posting to the News Feed, and have been hoping for more exposure directly on the Watch page, where there is only so much space to display shows at the top of the site.

Facebook says it is working on promotion with a mix of News Feed changes, giving more visibility to shows that encourage repeat viewership and getting people tuning into to Watch directly.

"We are updating News Feed ranking to improve distribution of videos from publishers and creators that people actively want to watch," Facebook said. "With this update, we will show more videos in News Feed that people seek out or return to watch from the same publisher or creator week after week."

On the Watch page, Facebook will feature shows more prominently if they encourage repeat viewers, Facebook said.

Also, when ads appear in shows will change. Facebook found that running mid-roll ads—commercial breaks—too soon in a video left viewers dissatisfied. The company said show creators should delay inserting ads to the one-minute mark, up from 20 seconds in, and restricted ads to videos 3 minutes or longer, up from 90 seconds.

At the same time, Facebook is changing when live videos are allowed to show ads, making the criteria stricter for becoming a partner. Too many low-quality live video creators met its initial requirements for activating ads and sharing in revenue, according to Facebook. The company doesn't want to direct brand ads to sketchy videos, always a concern when showing ads alongside user-generated content online.

A page will now need at least 50,000 followers to join the ad breaks program on live videos, up from 10,000.

"We've found Profiles and Pages below this [50,000] threshold are more likely to share live videos that fail to comply with our Content Guidelines for Monetization," Facebook said.

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