Recently, I noticed an addition to Facebook’s video services and it’s gotten a bit under my skin, mid-roll advertisements. Back in January, Facebook reported that they were tossing around the idea of adding mid-roll ads to existing videos on their site. Many of us are familiar with the much more common pre-roll ads, where a video viewer must sit through a five to thirty second commercial before the video content actually plays. Mid-roll ads perform exactly as the name implies. At some point during a video viewing experience, the video will pause and a commercial will run. The commercial must be watched in its entirety before the video will resume. Mid-rolling will only run on videos that are at least ninety seconds long, last for only fifteen seconds, and won’t start until twenty seconds into the video. However, multiple mid-roll ads may be added to a video as long as they are placed at least two minutes apart. In addition, Facebook is also rolling out this feature to their “Live” video platform. In order for a live video to qualify for mid-rolling, it must have at least 300 simultaneous viewers and be running for at least four minutes. This development begs the question; Is Facebook risking harm to their user experience in order to appease advertisers and pad their pockets with additional ad revenue, or is this just another brick in the wall of Facebook changes that users have become all too accustomed to?
The introduction of the newsfeed functionality first allowed Facebook to monetize their business model through sponsored messaging and banner ads / targeting. Since the newsfeed was introduced, Facebook has gone public, which put further pressure on the company to find new ways to generate revenue. Mid-roll advertisements is the newest strategy in a long line of pro-advertising features Facebook has added to their site. Mid-roll advertising is a great strategy for companies looking to post on Facebook because, unlike pre-roll ads or standard banner ads, mid-roll ads are almost impossible to ignore. The viewer is completely engaged in the video they have been watching for twenty to thirty seconds, which raises the probability they will continue to be engaged once the mid-roll advertisement begins to play. Unlike television commercials, there is no way to fast forward through these Facebook mid-roll advertisements. A viewer’s only hope is to ignore the ads by bypassing the video or ignoring the ad’s message. Unfortunately, skipping over the video entirely deprives the viewer of its information and ignoring the mid-roll ad could result in missing part of the video when it begins replaying. Mid-roll ad proceeds will be split between the publishers of the ads (55%) and Facebook (45%). This development from Facebook is interesting since, recently, YouTube got rid of their thirty second unskippable pre-roll ads because of overwhelming user hatred toward them http://fortune.com/2017/02/17/youtube-unskippable-30-second-ads/.
While mid-roll advertisements are clearly a benefit for marketers looking to ensure increased viewer engagement with their content, Facebook users may view the tactic in a much more unfavorable way. Though highly unlikely, the concern will be if these new ads cause high churn rates on Facebook. The new mid-roll ads could result in lower video view rates on Facebook, since unlike YouTube where video is the only option and the main attraction, Facebook users can still interact on the platform without using video. However, Facebook uses targeting methods to ensure videos placed in front of users remain relevant to their interests, which could entice users to remain patient through a mid-roll ad. Additionally, many people on Facebook watch videos for only a few seconds anyway, so they may not be affected by these new mid-roll ads.
I compare this development on Facebook to the battle between Hulu and Netflix. Both are subscription-based internet streaming services, but only Hulu interrupts their programming with advertisements. This could explain why Hulu has far fewer users than Netflix and also generates 1/6 of the revenue of Netflix. Does Facebook want to be a Hulu or a Netflix? Will the possible negative feelings that viewers have toward mid-roll ads begin to influence their opinions on the brands that sponsor them? Will mid-roll ads result in users skipping or ignoring content on Facebook? At the end of the day, money talks. If Facebook loses users because of a poorer user experience but increases revenue because of ad spending, it will be interesting to see if they continue with mid-roll ads or if they change their strategy.