Facebook Debuts Auto-Play Video Ads: Big Audience, Broad Targeting

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facebook-news-feed-videoIt took the better part of a year, but Facebook has overcome its internal angst about "motion" in the News Feed with the debut of cross-channel, auto-play video ads. The offering (officially in beta) instantly creates the largest digital video buy ever, with potential daily reach covering nearly half the U.S. population.

Mindshare purchased the first ads users are likely to see this week on behalf of Summit Entertainment, to promote the film "Divergent." (See a video of the mobile ad experience on the Facebook for Business blog.)

"We haven't seen consolidated video at this scale on the Web before," said Jordan Bitterman, chief strategy officer at Mindshare North America. "There are certainly places to get scale in video but to get that in one day in one place with one ad or a few ads, this is a large entry into the space."

Ads are strictly "premium" and sold through a sales team, as reflected by this statement in Facebook's blog post: "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."

"Large audience" in this case equates to "broad targeting." Marketers interested in narrow targeting or performance-based pricing shouldn't hold their breath.

But large-scale marketers willing to shell out the bucks may find interesting implications over time for data-driven creative personalization and conversion tracking. For instance, through its integration with offline data provider Datalogix, Facebook is able to link its impressions to conversions for products in the CPG, telco and auto categories today.

The ads, many have pointed out, reflect Facebook's determination to jackhammer a chunk of the more than $60 billion advertisers spend on television in the US.  The program, first reported last spring, was delayed and then delayed again, reportedly over CEO Mark Zuckerberg's concerns about the effects on user experience.

Bitterman said Mindshare's digital team – not its TV team -- handled the buy. "Over time it's possible we'll take a more holistic view to planning media," he said. "It's something that is certainly part of this discussion. Our TV guys will be very aware of this from the start, and we have many conversations."

Approximately 141 million Americans access Facebook monthly on their desktop and mobile devices, and the service accounts for one in five minutes spent on mobile here, as COO Sheryl Sandberg likes to observe. Across devices, Facebook captures approximately 114 billion minutes a month in the U.S., according to comScore (dwarfing Twitter's estimated 5.3 billion minutes).

Should Facebook choose to serve these ads to its global audience, the potential is immense: More than 1 billion people access the service daily around the world, with more than 500 million accessing Facebook on mobile.

The program began rolling out to some users last week, The Wall Street Journal reported last night.

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