Facebook Gives In to Pre-Roll Advertising

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Early this year Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ: FB) launched a test of advertising placed in the middle of content publishers’ videos. These “mid-roll” ads are similar to those commercials all of us know and love from watching TV.

The company has avoided “pre-roll” advertising — video ads that run before the video you actually want to watch — mostly because CEO Mark Zuckerberg hated them. Now, apparently, even Zuckerberg is going to learn to like, if not love, pre-roll ads.

On its media blog Thursday, Facebook announced some changes to its video distribution in an effort “to build effective video monetization tools for our partners.” In other words, that mid-roll plan isn’t paying off, so now it’s time to go to pre-rolls.

Starting in January, Facebook will “test” pre-roll ads “in places where people proactively seek out content, like Watch,” Facebook’s answer to Google’s YouTube. The pre-roll ads will be six seconds long and, for the time being, will not appear in Facebook’s News feed.

In a comment to Ad Age, Facebook director of product, Fidji Simo, said:

In a discovery environment like News Feed, pre-roll isn’t right because people aren’t committed to seeing content. In an intentional viewing experience, where people decide to proactively look for this content, pre-roll could be a good experience.

Facebook is also changing the rules on mid-roll advertising. Mid-rolls won’t be allowed until the video has run for at least a minute, and then only if the video is at least three minutes long. When Facebook introduced mid-rolls, the rules allowed mid-rolls after 20 seconds on videos just 90 seconds long.

That probably won’t be much incentive for publishers to run more mid-rolls. The problem is that many viewers don’t stick around for a full minute: no viewers, no ads; no ads, no revenue. That leads, almost inevitably, to pre-roll ads.