Facebook Video Ads Could Bite Into Twitter’s Social TV Dominance

Tube marketers may prefer auto-play's buzz to static units

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Facebook’s auto-play video ads will certainly attract marketing niches that are already invested in online video—from entertainment (movies, particularly) to automotive to consumer-packaged goods to retail. But one of the more intriguing developments afoot could lie in how tune-in TV marketers react to the ad unit, which begins testing with the Summit Entertainment film Divergent on Thursday.

Even though the first ad will only be seen by a fraction of Facebook’s audience, the unit is expected to eventually roll out as an expensive pu­rchase (up to $2 million a day, per reports) that reaches millions upon millions of consumers per day. In other words, Twitter’s Promoted Trend—which costs around $200,000 per day—has company in terms of buzz-minded social ads products. Television brands have been active Promoted Trend buyers to spark timely conversation. So it's reasonable to believe that broadcast and cable marketers will regularly tap Facebook's auto-play ad to push TV shows. Imagine how many times a plot-driven 15-second spot for The Walking Dead or Mad Men would be shared, liked and commented on leading up to their respective premieres?

“I expect the TV industry to take to it,” said Brian Blau, a social media analyst at Gartner. “It’s been immersed in video advertising for some time. And then you have the fact that commercials on your cable box are auto-play. So it's good for the TV industry. That said, it's also generally good for brands that are launching new products. All of a sudden, they have a new way of getting that product in front of Facebook users.”

As Facebook’s recently leaked deck clearly states, CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Co. are taking aim at brands' YouTube and television spends. But then there’s also TV-happy Twitter, which has trouble selling its Promoted Trend every single day. (Adweek observed the unit, somewhat surprisingly, went unsold for two or three days in November, which is a crucial marketing period due to the holidays.) A Promoted Trend can include video, but users have to click through the static ad to see the spot. So buzz-minded television marketers might take a shine to Facebook's auto-play feature.

"The Twitter Promoted Trend for live events and TV shows is great," said Mary Snauffer, senior social strategist for Iris Worldwide. "But if TV marketers offer exclusive content with upcoming scenes from their show as Facebook auto-play video ads, that will be a nice win for the Hollywood folks."

Snauffer said TV and movie studios are going to have a much easier job crafting video ads that Facebook users will engage with. "CPGs and that whole world will have to work harder to create content that auto-plays in users' news feeds and is valuable to them—rather than annoying and invasive," she explained. 

Blau from Gartner wondered about whether users will tolerate the video ads in their Facebook news feeds.

"There has been a lot of talk over the years about declining engagement on the users side," he said. "If Facebook's number of [impressions] or clickthroughs goes down, then that's going to affect their revenues. But so far, they've done pretty good with that. Their revenues next quarter are probably going to be just fine regardless of this one ad unit."

And as auto-play video goes, Facebook users will be watching—whether they like it or not.

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.