As autoplay plays catch-up to pre-roll, Facebook pushes both

Facebook takes its cues from YouTube, but everyone else is taking cues from Facebook

Facebook may now have more monthly video views than YouTube, but it’s still hard for advertisers to value Facebook’s autoplay ad inventory the same as pre-roll on top video sites like YouTube. In spite of Facebook’s impressive reach and targeting capabilities, it still has to grapple with the fact that a significant chunk of its video ads play without sound and without any guarantee that a user even clicked play.

Now it looks like Facebook wants to grab some of that pre-roll business for itself. Last week it said it’s experimenting with a new video ad format that plays in-stream between user-initiated newsfeed videos. With the new “suggested video” feature, video content that Facebook users tap on in its iPhone app will pop out in player with several suggested follow-up videos linked alongside it, similar to related content widgets used by the Huffington Post’s video player, for example. When the user’s video ends, the next suggested video starts playing automatically.

Facebook plans to insert targeted ad videos into these suggested video playlists, so that they’ll effectively act as pre-roll advertising for followup videos in the stream. Video partners lined up to use the suggested video feature (these include Funny or Die, Fox Sports, Hearst, Tastemade and the NBA) will receive 55% of the revenue from these ads, which is really the first time video publishers will have a chance to monetize their Facebook video content.

The format borrows a lot from YouTube’s successful content recommendation program, which for a long time has used an autoplay timer that starts the next suggested video when the current video ends, using the opportunity to run additional pre-roll in between. Facebook’s revenue share with publishers also uses the same 45/55 breakdown that YouTube offers content creators on pre-roll ads they run on their channels.

This move into pre-roll isn’t just about getting users to watch ads with the sound on. One big difference between autoplay and suggested video is that ads will again be associated with premium video content, rather than standing on their own in users’ newsfeeds. As one unnamed marketer told the Wall Street Journal last week, “quality content providers are the things that consumers are most interested in and not the content created by brands… It is important for a brand to surround itself with quality content – that is what consumers lean into.”

Funny or Die’s VP marketing and distribution Patrick Sharzan told Adweek he’s anticipating the new format will let Funny or Die monetize the Facebook platform directly, rather than having to draw consumers back to its own site. To help populate its suggested video playlists, Funny or Die is considering moving a lot of its back catalog of content onto the site, he said.

“This product is different than just being in your newsfeed. It’s bringing you into a lean back video viewing experience,” he said. “We’ll have to see, once people get into that experience of watching multiple videos at one time, how you’d really structure the video for that experience.”

But even as Facebook pushes into pre-roll, non-interruptive autoplay video is gaining legitimacy with advertisers and agency creatives. Earlier this week AdExchanger ran a story about how advertisers are adapting campaigns to soundless video. Ben & Jerry’s, for instance, uses shortened videos and adds subtitles to videos that will likely be shown muted. Advertisers like have even gotten creative with the muted format and used it to their advantage.

Though some marketers – like Kraft VP of media Bob Rupczynski, who told the WSJ that video without sound is “wasted money” – have pooh-poohed muted autoplay video, others see an opportunity to boost reach significantly beyond the limited supply of premium pre-roll video. Autoplay ads may not get as many completions as pre-roll, but they do get many more views.

The increasing demand for “premium” autoplay is even driving more publishers to add in-line video to non-video content. Forbes and Slate use an in-text autoplay video format called InRead, developed by Teads, and major supply-side platforms like The Rubicon Project have announced that they support muted in-text video.

Here in Canada, where premium pre-roll inventory is especially scarce, publishers like Torstar and Postmedia are experimenting with expandable in-text video ad formats created by Slimcut Media. All of this points to autoplay stepping out from pre-roll’s shadow, and being taken seriously as a specialized media channel in its own right.

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