Facebook's expansion of pre-roll ads: Short-term benefits only?

Facebook has boosted initiatives to monetise video content on its platform, one of them being the expansion of pre-roll ads which it tested on Facebook Watch last December. This is to grow payouts for creators and publishers who have built engaged and loyal viewers.

In a blog post, Facebook said pre-roll ads will be expanded to areas on the social networking site such as search results and on a Page timeline. If a user searches for a show on Facebook, for example, a pre-roll ad might play when they choose an episode to watch.

Facebook will also test a show preview trailer format, allowing users to discover episodes of Facebook Watch shows on their News Feed. Upon tapping on the trailer, a short ad will be played before the users are being redirected to the full episode on Facebook Watch. The company has also unveiled a feature that automatically detects an ideal place for an ad break within an eligible video.

Additionally, content partners are also able to submit videos for monetisation eligibility review before posting.

Its latest move comes despite the fact that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was previously opposed to pre-roll video ads. Zuckerberg said during a conference call with investors in 2017, that the company does not need pre-roll ads as "[its] model is not one where you come to Facebook to watch one piece of content, you come to look at a feed". However, with chatter surrounding the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal, one might wonder if this is Facebook's attempt to win back advertisers and publishers.

Short term benefits?

In a statement to A+M,  Andrew Turner, chief business officer, Consider iProspect, said that previously, content creators and publishers saw limitations in monetising their content on Facebook and favoured other platforms such as YouTube. However, Facebook is now making advancements towards the ease of monetisation and as such, there is a potential to attract better content producers, which will in turn cause people to be more engaged on the platform.

"If Facebook manages to attract longer, better quality video content published on the platform, which in turn drives more engagements, that gives an extra depth for advertisers using video to capitalise on. Also, greater ad options in video allow advertisers more testing options to see how they can improve performance," Turner said.

Meanwhile, Santosh Sonawale, programmatic director, Omnicom Media Group Malaysia is of the view that while users are well aware of pre-roll ads, the video ad's content and creativity still play an important role in engaging users and delivering relevant messages. This in turn helps improve the viewing experience.

"Facebook is not a pure video platform. The user has multiple options on their News Feed and it’s much easier for them to move on to other content if they don’t like pre-roll video ads," Sonawale said.

This is compared to other video streaming platforms, where users mainly consume content via a single screen and there is a lack of other content options available. As such, users tend to stick to the content with ads, rather than moving on to other content options. Hence, Sonawale said it will be interesting to see if the expansion of pre-roll ads will affect Facebook's overall user experience.

One possible benefit of Facebook's new move is that there might be an increase in video viewability and completion rate.

"If we look at other top streaming platforms, most of their inventory is pre-roll, and as they only offer a single screen, the intent of the user is generally high for the selected video content, hence they may choose to watch the ad. Thus, viewability and video completion rates are higher," Sonawale added. Also, Facebook's features such as the Ad Relevance score, may help develop more relevant creative for the right users.

Also weighing in on the conversation is Stanley Clement, MD, Society, who said that advertisers will benefit from the latest announcement in the short term. However, if users get increasingly annoyed due to the disruption of their viewing experience, which can potentially happen, they may tend to not use Facebook as much or even cease to use it altogether. He added:

This will render advertising spends ineffective as they will no longer be capturing their desired audience.

Clement added that Facebook is not a suitable platform for pre-roll ads, as the content on the platform is not in long formats.

Better pre-rolls than mid-rolls?

However, when compared to mid-roll ads, Clement said pre-roll ads are still more acceptable among users as users did not react well to the mid-roll ads that Facebook pushed out last year, especially when it appears at the climax of the video and disrupts viewing experience of the content.

Agreeing with Clement is Rebecca Nadilo, head of planning at BBDO Singapore, who said that mid-roll ads can be "very disruptive". The majority of activity on Facebook is still quick, snackable content that people consume in between moments of their day. As such Facebook has to be careful not to disrupt that experience with these new ad formats.

While advertisers might see the expansion of pre-roll ads as an opportunity to further reach and target audiences, capturing attention in six seconds, however, is a new art that requires a fresh approach to storytelling. "The constraint can be a rich territory for impactful messaging if not approached as an abbreviated 90-seconder," Nadilo said.

Keeping consumers on for longer

Also weighing in on the conversation is Tobias Wilson, CEO of APD Singapore, who doubts that consumers will leave Facebook because of pre-roll ads. However, he hopes for the pre-roll ads to be more targeted and relevant to audience, given the amount of data Facebook has.

"Any media placement has an opportunity to be successful if thought about properly and executed well. Sadly, we fail in that area more often than not. So yes, it will be successful in reaching eye-balls. Engaging them is another thing," Wilson said. He added that hopefully the new move by Facebook will inspire marketers or agencies to build "fit-for-execution creatives" to leverage the new format.

Ajit Varghese, president, market development, Wavemaker, added that while pre-rolls are not new, this is an "important opportunity" for Facebook to monetise the video content without being too intrusive. He said that any ads longer than five to six seconds might face consumer dissonance. Nonetheless, the latest move by Facebook is a good opportunity for advertisers that aim to build quick reach.

However, advertisers that seek more engagement and call to action will search for more effective ways of reaching potential consumers than just pre-rolls. As such it is important for advertisers to use platforms based on a deep consumer understanding and the desired level of engagement, rather than exposure or cost, Varghese added.

Consider iProspect' Turner added that to keep consumers happy, "Facebook must now avoid making ads a deterrent to content consumption by the user."