Facebook’s auto-playing video ads may be a tough sell to users

Facebook’s long-rumored auto-playing video ads are finally here. Sort of.

Reports of video ads on the social network have popped up here and there over the last year, but Facebook was slow to make such a big move. The odds of angering its user base seemed enormous. So there were tests. And more tests. Some users started seeing auto-playing videos in September. Then, Facebook rolled out its most recent app update, which delivered auto-playing videos to all users. The time to strike, it seems, is now.

But Facebook is still calling Tuesday’s introduction of auto-playing video ads a test. Only a small percentage of people will see ads for the new Kate Winslet film Divergent play as they scroll through their News Feeds on both mobile and desktop version of the site.

Facebook knows auto-playing videos are annoying. People don’t love ads shoved in their face as they’re trying to go about their day. So the videos will play silently unless you tap the frame to turn the sound on. You can also scroll past the video to avoid watching the ad.

Facebook vs. your TV

Not every brand is suited for video ads, and in its Tuesday announcement, Facebook said the product is “specifically designed for awareness campaigns that are meant to reach a large number of people to increase interest in a brand, product, or content in a short amount of time.” In other words, these aren’t your run-of-the-mill TV commercials.

But just because Facebook ads will be more targeted than TV commercials doesn’t mean the network isn’t taking aim at the dominant ad medium. In a presentation sent to marketers in November and obtained by TechCrunch, Facebook used Nielsen data to hammer home its penetration among young adults—TV networks reach just more than half of 18- to 24-year-olds during primetime, while Facebook reaches 70 percent. The network also teased “Blasts,” or short video ad campaigns that will saturate the network in just 1-3 days.

The difference between TV commercials or online pre-roll ads, which prevent you from skipping past them until a few seconds have passed, and Facebook is you can easily ignore silent video ads. Scrolling past an ad is easy, and brands who decide to use Facebook to advertise their wares will have to make that content compelling enough so people not only won’t scroll past it, but will actually tap the video to hear the sound. That’s quite a challenge, and may be why Facebook is testing the new format with a film partner before branching out to more traditional companies.

If Facebook manages to make video ads a compelling format for advertisers without angering users, the social network stands to capture a sliver of the $66 billlion TV ad market and send its already impressive mobile ad revenue soaring. It may also fend off Twitter, which is fighting for a piece of television’s audience but doesn’t have a comparable ad format—yet.

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