Facebook is set to take a big step forward in its plans to dominate the online video industry. A report in Recode cites “industry sources” who say Facebook is testing “mid-roll” ads that will begin playing 20 seconds into videos.
This development follows up an August 2016 report that suggested Facebook would monetize its live streaming content through a similar mid-roll strategy. Now, if the new chatter is accurate, that approach could be extended to any video on Facebook. Recode notes that Facebook is expected to take 45% of ad revenue generated by its mid-rolls, offering its content creators the same share they can find on YouTube.
The adoption of mid-rolls would mark two major changes in Facebook’s video plans. The social giant has been criticized for inflating the value of video views on its platform by counting any interaction that lasts at least three seconds as a view. In an individual user’s timeline, where videos automatically begin playback and are favored in the appropriate algorithm, that leads to a lot of hits that are perceived as illegitimate. By making 20 seconds the most important viewership benchmark, Facebook would establish a metric that would clearly define how many people are watching its videos.
Most importantly, however, the launch of an ad infrastructure would stop Facebook from scaring off brands that enjoy the reach Facebook provides but also want to post videos on platforms where activity makes financial sense. As the demise of Vine has showed us, even the most culturally-relevant video platform cannot survive if its videos cannot be easily monetized. Facebook, it would seem, is about to avoid that same pitfall.
As for the decision to promote mid-roll ads rather than the pre-rolls used by YouTube, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg is thought to believe his company’s choice will be less disruptive for viewers. While he may be right, there’s also no denying the amount of ad revenue that can be made off “gotcha” videos that do not live up to the promise of their salacious titles or thumbnails. By championing its own ad format, Facebook could force producers to adapt their videos to fit different platforms. As someone who watches a lot of online video, the prospect of such a diverse landscape is certainly exciting.
Facebook did not comment on Recode’s report, which did not say when users might expect to begin seeing mid-roll ads in their timelines.