Facebook starts testing auto-play video ads in News Feed

As has been rumored and planned for months, Facebook announced this morning auto-play video advertisements (without sound) in the mobile and desktop News Feeds. This will be a small test among select users who will see video ads for the film, “Divergent,” in their News Feed.

Facebook made the announcement in a blog post:

Since September, we’ve been testing a way to make videos more engaging on Facebook, and as a result we’ve seen views, likes, shares and comments increase more than 10 percent.

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.

It will be interesting to see the user reaction to this, especially as so many people use Vine or Instagram, where auto-play video posts are the norm.

[contextly_sidebar id=”b470072eebfde7099b378934011daed1″]Facebook is smart about rolling out controversial products, doing so in bits and pieces rather than just a broad roll out. The company started letting bands and celebrities use auto-play posts in the mobile News Feed, and now it is testing how select users will respond to these ad units.

Facebook explained how these ads will work in the blog post, attempting to calm fears about noise or data usage:

  • Rather than having to click or tap to play, videos will begin to play as they appear onscreen – without sound – similar to how they behave when shared by friends or verified Pages. If you don’t want to watch the video, you can simply scroll or swipe past it.
  • If the video is clicked or tapped and played in full screen, the sound for that video will play as well.
  • At the end of the video a carousel of two additional videos will appear, making it easy to continue to discover content from the same marketers.
  • On mobile devices, all videos that begin playing as they appear on the screen will have been downloaded in advance when the device was connected to Wi-Fi – meaning this content will not consume data plans, even if you’re not connected to Wi-Fi at the time of playback.

eMarketer also sent along to Inside Facebook some statistics, showing just how valuable this new ad unit could be for Facebook:

  • Digital video ad spending in the US will top out at $4.15 billion by the end of this year, according to new eMarketer figures released in December, up 43.5% from $2.89 billion last year.
  • The TV market, from which Facebook hopes to siphon ad dollars, is far larger. Advertisers will have spent $66.35 billion on TV this year in the US, eMarketer estimates, up from $64.54 billion last year.
  • YouTube is one of the largest recipients of digital video ad dollars, according to eMarketer. The company is expected to account for a 20.5% of all US digital video ad spending-after paying back considerable fees to its channel partners and content creators.
  • Ad spending next year on digital video formats is expected to increase a further 39.5% to $5.79 billion in the US, while TV ad spending is expected to rise 3.3% to $68.54 billion.

Molly McCarty, Social Account Manager of digital marketing agency 3Q Digital, commented to Inside Facebook about this ad unit:

Video ads in The News Feed are a natural progression for Facebook. Currently Facebook allows video posts to be used as advertisements so I imagine that the results we are seeing from those will somewhat mirror the results we see from the video ads. The main difference here, however, is that users will no longer have the option of not playing the video, it will run automatically (with no sound). Hopefully this will increase the click-through rate. In my experience, CTR for video posts on Facebook have been about 71% smaller than the CTR of regular posts.

Readers: If you’ve seen one of these auto-play video ads, what did you think?