The Facebook feature that has been long anticipated by marketers and long dreaded by users is one large step closer to becoming a reality, as the social network announced Tuesday that it will officially begin testing video ads this week, with “a small number of people” who will see a spot for upcoming feature film Divergent when they access their News Feeds on desktop or mobile.
The video ads will function in the same way as the auto-play feature that was rolled out earlier this month for videos shared via Facebook or Instagram: They will begin playing automatically as soon as they appear on screen, without audio. Users who wish to access the ads with audio can click or tap on the videos to view them in full-screen. Those who are not interested can simply scroll past the content.
Mobile users’ data consumption will be unaffected, as video ads will only auto-play if they were downloaded when devices were connected to Wi-Fi, so users on data plans will not see their usage rise due to these new ad units.
Once viewing of the video ads is completed, two additional videos from the same marketers will be made available to interested users via a carousel.
Facebook provided a frequently-asked-questions section in its Newsroom post announcing the test of video ads:
Which videos start playing in News Feed? At this time, videos start playing from:
- Individuals (personal Facebook accounts or verified pages).
- Some pages, like those of entertainers and sports organizations.
- Summit Entertainment’s content for Divergent.
Is there a way to prevent these video ads from playing as they appear on screen? The video ads will begin to play as you scroll through News Feed, but if you don’t want to watch, you can simply keep scrolling and the video will stop playing. Video ads are pre-downloaded when you are on Wi-Fi, so they do not consume additional data.
When do videos play with sound? Videos will not play with sound unless you turn the sound on. To do this, click or tap on the video.
When will all video content begin to play as it appears on-screen? This is an initial, limited test. We will let you know if/when you’ll begin seeing more video content begin to play as it comes into view.
The social network said in introducing the test:
We’re beginning to test a similar video viewing format for advertisers. Marketers will be able to use this new format to tell their stories to a large number of people on Facebook in a short amount of time — with high-quality sight, sound, and motion. This approach will continue to improve the quality of ads that you see in News Feed.
And Facebook offered more details in a post on the Facebook for Business page:
This week, we’re starting to test this richer storytelling format for advertisers. Compelling sight, sound, and motion are often integral components of great marketing campaigns, particularly when brands want to increase awareness and attention over a short period of time. From launching new products to shifting brand sentiment, this video format is ideal for marketers who are looking to make a large-scale impact, and for people who will discover more great content in their News Feeds.
This format isn’t intended for every video ad or page post video on Facebook; it meets specific needs for certain marketers with certain objectives. We’ll continue to refine this new way for brands to tell stories on Facebook to ensure the best experience for people and marketers.
The Facebook for Business post also offered an FAQ section:
When will all people start seeing videos from brands play as they appear on screen? When will all marketers be able to have videos play as they appear on screen? This is an initial, limited test. We will let you know if/when the product becomes more widely available.
Will the pricing structure for these types of video ads be similar to the current page post video offering? We do not disclose pricing. The goal for this test feature is to be a premium advertising format on Facebook, intended to reach a large audience at specific times.
Eventually, will all promoted videos begin playing as they appear on screen? This is an initial, limited test. We’ll determine future uses based on what we learn from this test.
How is this feature different from page post video ads? This premium feature is specifically designed for awareness campaigns that are meant to reach a large number of people to increase interest in a brand, product, or content, in a short amount of time. Page post video ads can then come into play to sustain the message of this initial campaign over longer time periods, in more targeted ways.
Research firm eMarketer offered the following statistics about the digital video advertising sector:
- eMarketer projects that U.S. digital video ad spending will total $4.15 billion in 2013, up 43.5 percent from the 2012 total of $2.89 billion.
- The sector still pales in comparison with television, which will see spending of $66.35 billion in 2013, up from $64.54 billion last year.
- YouTube will account for 20.5 percent of total U.S. digital video ad spending.
- eMarketer projects that U.S. digital video ad spending will rise 39.5 percent in 2014, to $5.79 billion, while that figure for TV will go up 3.3 percent, to $68.54 billion.
Following is a brief timetable chronicling reports on Facebook’s video ads since they were initially mentioned in December 2012:
- December 2012: Reports of Facebook launching video ads surfaced for the first time, with Ad Age saying they would launch in the first half of 2013
- April 2013: Ad Age reports that video ads will launch in the summer of 2013, with Facebook seeking “a seven-figure price tag.”
- June 2013: Ad Age reports that the project is on hold until “at least mid-October.”
- July 2013: Business Insider shared conflicting predictions, with Spruce Media CEO Rob Jewell pointing to the fourth quarter of 2013, while another source said video ads were tabled until at least 2014.
- September 2013: Ad Age reports that the original October timetable for the launch of video ads was scrapped, with no new timetable in place.
- September 2013: Project manager Justin Shaffer, who had been leading Facebook’s video ads initiative, leaves the company.
- December 2013: Auto-play videos (not ads, but videos posted to Facebook and Instagram by users) begin rolling out.
- December 2013: The “Facebook for Business: Video on Facebook” presentation for the social network’s Preferred Marketing Developers offered strategies on how to position video ads on Facebook versus both television and YouTube.
Readers: What are your thoughts on Facebook video ads?
Images courtesy of Shutterstock.