Facebook to show pre-roll video ads in more places

Garett Sloane | April 20, 2018
Facebook will try more pre-roll video ads to help publishers make money.
Facebook will try more pre-roll video ads to help publishers make money. Credit: Illustration by Tam Nguyen/AdAge
Facebook will show pre-roll ads—commercials ahead of videos—in more places on the social network.

On Friday, the company revealed the expansion of pre-roll ads, a format once banned by CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself, in a blog post about “best practices and updates on video and monetization.”

One of the ways for media companies to make money on Facebook is by showing ads in their videos and splitting the revenue. Last year, Ad Age reported that Facebook would start testing pre-roll ads in Watch, its new video hub with serialized programming produced by media companies and entertainment studios.

“Earlier this year we began testing pre-roll in Watch,” Facebook said in its blog post attributed to Nick Grudin, VP of media partnerships and Maria Angelidou-Smith, product management director. “We have seen promising signs, so we are expanding testing to places where people seek out videos, like in search results or on a Page timeline. For example, if a person searches for a show, a pre-roll may play when they select the episode to watch.”

The pre-roll ads will not appear in people’s News Feeds, the main content stream people scroll on Facebook.

The ad format is consistently rated poorly by internet users, who resent the intrusion of commercials keeping them from content. Last year’s Internet Trends report from Mary Meeker cited pre-roll video ads as the most disliked type of ad, and Zuckerberg for years ordered Facebook to avoid them because of their low-quality user experience.

However, Facebook had begun inserting “mid-roll” ads into videos as part of its program to help media partners make money on its platform. Media partners are more interested in pre-roll because viewers are more likely to see the ads; with mid-roll breaks, viewers might bail before getting to the commercial.

Facebook began testing pre-roll partly because rivals like YouTube and Twitter already offer them and proved that they could work. So far, however, it has limited pre-roll ads to six seconds in length. The social network has said the format is appropriate in cases where viewers intentionally seek out the content, like in the Watch hub or on a video creator’s page.

“In a discovery environment like News Feed, pre-roll isn’t right because people aren’t committed to seeing content,” Fidji Simo, director of product at Facebook, said in December, when the pre-roll videos were first revealed. “In an intentional viewing experience, where people decide to proactively look for this content, pre-roll could be a good experience.”

Facebook declined to comment further on Friday.

Facebook’s updates also included a new feature called “preview trailers,” ads to promote Watch shows and other videos that can take viewers to the full-length program.

Facebook also said it would stop allowing “manufactured sharing and distribution schemes,” such as when video producers pay popular accounts to post their content.

“Content partners with paid arrangements for Pages to methodically and inorganically share videos can no longer monetize views originating on the third party Pages,” the blog post said.