Facebook video ads: Look who’s watching


The Wall recently carried the following article from me, commenting on the rumoured launch of Facebook’s video ads.

When Facebook-owned Instagram revealed its Video platform in June, some sharp observers instantly noted how convenient it was that the clip length was set at 15 seconds – an established ad-length in the TV world.

Rumours have been flying around since December that Facebook is planning to launch in-feed video ads, so when Bloomberg reported last week that Facebook is set to sell them at $2.5m a pop, it caused a stir within the industry to say the least. According to Bloomberg, two people “familiar with the matter” said that Facebook was planning to take on television’s dominance over advertising budgets.

Short form video itself has been of the most talked about areas of social media in recent months, not least because it’s developing so quickly on an increasingly visual social web. Until recently, Twitter’s Vine was really the only key contender in the short form video war.

However, it was Instagram video that really made people sit up and pay attention to the commercial potential of short form video. Instagram has over 130m active users, offering a huge engagement potential. Combine this with Facebook’s active users, over 1.11 billion as of May this year – 61% of whom use the site on a daily basis – it’s an exciting proposition for advertisers.

And Facebook’s current strategy of focusing on hashtags, which has the potential to provide the platform with a much stronger connection to TV shows, as well as pushing Graph Search as a way to discover new film and TV content, means we’re seeing much more synergy with broadcast from the platform.

However, integrating TV ads into Facebook is not without potential issues. While brands have certainly become more clued up in recent years about making sure they use content relevant to the platform they’re using it on, simply replicating a 15 second TV spot on Facebook isn’t necessarily going to give the results they’re looking for.

Consumers expect to see advertising on their TV that may not be relevant to their personal interests and needs, because they accept that television is a mass-market, ‘lean-back’ medium. However, the average consumer is much more protective about their personal Facebook newsfeed, and could object to irrelevant, untargeted video ads appearing in place of updates from their friends. A focus on quality is going to be absolutely essential.

If this strategy is to be successful for Facebook, the platform must maintain the right balance between brand posts and content people see from their friends. Mark Zuckerberg recently said that he plans to limit the number of ads in the newsfeed to about one for every 20 post updates. The balance between the need to monetise the platform and to keep users happy has never been more delicate.

Facebook has just reported bumper profits in the three months to June 30, with net profit rising to £217m. This time last year, it was making a significant loss. Zuckerberg and team are clearly on the right track, and the introduction of TV ads to the platform, if managed well by both Facebook and advertisers, will be another significant string to its bow.