As video ads debut, Facebook tries to balance revenue vs. annoyance

They’re heee-re.

Long-rumored and more than six months after they were expected, Facebook will start rolling out video ads in users’ news feeds this week.

Facebook said Tuesday it has been testing the autoplaying video ads since September. The Wall Street Journal reported users will start seeing the ads Thursday, on both mobile and Web versions of Facebook. The Journal reported advertisers had hoped for an earlier rollout to boost holiday shopping, but Facebook was worried about possible user backlash.

While video ads have tremendous revenue potential ($800 million over the next three years, according to one report), Facebook has been carefully tweaking the format to lessen the annoyance for its 1.2 billion worldwide users. Facebook engineers have reportedly sped up the loading process, and the videos won’t play on a smartphone unless it’s connected to WiFi, so they won’t drain data plans. Previously, reports said the ads would last 15 seconds and start playing silently — users can only hear the sound by clicking on them.

The debut video ad is a trailer for the upcoming movie “Divergent” — click below to see how it’ll look in your news feed:

Facebook has not disclosed how much it’s charging for video ads, but an August report estimated a 15-second ad would run from $1 million to $2.5 million. In TV terms, that’s comparable to a Super Bowl spot. But its audience is comparable to the Super Bowl too: “Every night, 88 million to 100 million people are actively using Facebook during prime-time TV hours in the United States alone,” Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said at the time.

“For the first time, Facebook will be able to offer a TV-like video ad product with similar or greater reach than broadcast TV,”  Rob Jewell, CEO of digital marketing firm Spruce Media told the Merc’s Brandon Bailey in August.

While users may grumble a bit, investors aren’t — Facebook shares were up 1.3 percent in early trading.

 

File photo by KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

 

Mike Murphy Mike Murphy (311 Posts)

Mike Murphy is a web producer at the Mercury News, and also writes for Good Morning Silicon Valley and 60-Second Business Break.