New Auto-Play Video Ads a Boon for Both Facebook and Brands

Users may become annoyed by the insertion of new auto-play video ads into their Facebook news feeds. However brand marketers are going to love the new ad units. And Facebook's investors are going to love the revenue -- especially from mobile. 

Facebook is promoting video in the news feed as a potential source of "high quality" ads for users. While that might be true in some cases, it's all about giving brand advertisers new ways to "tell stories" on Facebook -- and Facebook new ways to generate revenue across platforms with TV-style video advertising.  

It will work on both the PC and, most importantly, in mobile. Here's how the ads will operate according to Facebook:

  • 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 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 WiFi – meaning this content will not consume data plans, even if you're not connected to WiFi at the time of playback.

Facebook is carefully trying to balance advertiser and user interests here. Most notably there's no sound when the videos start to "auto-play." This is a key decision to minimize user backlash. In addition the "no data-plan impact" of mobile ads is also critical. 

These ad units -- assuming that there's no sustained user uproar -- will bring significant new revenue to mobile for Facebook. They'll also give brand advertisers a potentially compelling and simple way to reach mobile users. The genius of these ads is that they automatically work across platforms and marketers won't need to change the creative to address the mobile audience.

The decision to keep the sound off is smart both to minimize the backlash, as I said, but also to indicate true engagement with the video units -- users will have to click to hear the sound. But these units will also likely have a "brand effect" and influence even if the sound is not engaged.  

I've argued in the past that video is a key format for mobile ads. If I'm right, Facebook may have just created its "killer" mobile ad unit.