Facebook announces 6-second pre-roll ad test, new mid-roll ad restrictions

Facebook will begin testing a six-second pre-roll ads hub next year, the company announced on Thursday, confirming earlier reports. Facebook is also introducing new restrictions on when and which publishers and creators can insert mid-roll ads in their videos and changing how its algorithm decides which videos to prioritize in people’s News Feeds.

Taken together, the changes underscore Facebook’s pivot from the one-off videos that popularized the medium on its social network to the episodic series that the company has been investing in to cultivate a more TV-like audience and attract TV-level ad dollars.

Pre-roll ads

Facebook’s pre-roll ads will only run within its Watch video hub. That limitation maintains Facebook’s long-held stance against pre-empting in-feed videos with ads and, since people must sit through the unskippable ads to see a video in Watch, makes it more likely that the shows Facebook has paid publishers to produce for Watch will return revenue to the company.

“While pre-roll ads don’t work well in News Feed, we think they will work well in Watch because it’s a place where people visit and come back to with the intention to watch videos,” Facebook product management director Maria Angelidou-Smith and product manager Abhishek Bapna wrote in a company blog post published on Thursday.

Facebook will fill the pre-roll inventory with any video ads that brands run on Facebook that are six seconds long and bought with the in-stream placement selected, according to a Facebook spokesperson.

Mid-roll ads

Facebook is also adjusting the requirements for mid-roll ads (or “Ad Breaks,” in Facebook’s parlance).

Previously, videos had to be at least 90 seconds long to qualify for Ad Breaks, and those mid-roll ads could be inserted as soon as 20 seconds after the video started playing. Beginning in January, videos must be at least three minutes long, and mid-roll ads cannot be inserted until a video has played for 60 seconds.

“Our consumer research showed that moving from 90 second to three minute videos with Ad Breaks improved overall satisfaction. Furthermore, across initial testing, satisfaction increased 18 percent when we delayed the first Ad Break placement,” Angelidou-Smith and Bapna wrote.

Viewers’ dissatisfaction with Facebook’s mid-roll ads may also owe to the fact that they can be inelegantly inserted, suddenly cutting in rather than waiting for a natural pause like on TV. Since publishers in Facebook’s video monetization program are able to control when an ad appears and can track how their ad breaks performed, some have begun to devise strategies to improve the likelihood that viewers will sit through the spot.

The other change Facebook announced is a limit on which publishers and creators are able to insert ad breaks into live videos. Last year, Facebook enabled any Page or Profile in the US with at least 2,000 followers and 300 concurrent live viewers to place a mid-roll ad in a broadcast. Now, the company is disabling the option for all Profiles and for any Page with fewer than 50,000 followers.

“We’re making these changes because we’ve found Profiles and Pages below this threshold are more likely to share live videos that fail to comply with our Content Guidelines for Monetization. Live video publishers below this threshold also tend to have smaller audiences for their broadcasts, and therefore aren’t able to garner meaningful revenue from Ad Breaks,” wrote Angelidou-Smith and Bapna.

Algorithm change

Finally, to make it more likely that people will be willing to sit through these ads, Facebook is changing how its algorithm decides which videos to show them.

Facebook’s algorithm will prioritize videos from publishers and creators that people regularly watch or actively seek out. The shift will apply to Facebook’s News Feed and Watch’s Discover tab and is likely to boost the reach and potential viewership of episodic series, such as the ones that Facebook is paying publishers to produce for Watch. Facebook will also allow Pages to link to Show Pages dedicated to individual Watch programs. Those links will enable publishers and creators to more easily share episodes with their Pages’ more established audiences.

Given that there’s only so much real estate in people’s News Feeds, Facebook’s decision to show more episodic videos in people’s feeds may lead to fewer one-off videos appearing and pressure publishers and creators to follow suit in the types of videos they produce to distribute on Facebook. However, Facebook isn’t closing the door on standalone videos entirely. “Engaging one-off videos that bring friends and communities together have always done well in News Feed and will continue to do so,” according to Angelidou-Smith and Bapna.

About The Author

Tim Peterson
Tim Peterson, Third Door Media's Social Media Reporter, has been covering the digital marketing industry since 2011. He has reported for Advertising Age, Adweek and Direct Marketing News. A born-and-raised Angeleno who graduated from New York University, he currently lives in Los Angeles. He has broken stories on Snapchat's ad plans, Hulu founding CEO Jason Kilar's attempt to take on YouTube and the assemblage of Amazon's ad-tech stack; analyzed YouTube's programming strategy, Facebook's ad-tech ambitions and ad blocking's rise; and documented digital video's biggest annual event VidCon, BuzzFeed's branded video production process and Snapchat Discover's ad load six months after launch. He has also developed tools to monitor brands' early adoption of live-streaming apps, compare Yahoo's and Google's search designs and examine the NFL's YouTube and Facebook video strategies.