Facebook can reap many millions of dollars by putting video commercials into your news feed. But the social network site needs to tread carefully.
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If you complain that your Facebook news feed is too cluttered as it is, brace yourself: According to reports, the social network plans to sell TV-style ads that will appear in your stream alongside posts from your friends.
Rumors of Facebook video ads first surfaced in December when one report said they were set to roll out by "April at the latest." Subsequent reports had the launch date pushed back to mid-October. Facebook has declined to comment.
But one thing is certain: Facebook users hate change, and this new addition to the news feed will likely upset many. But for the social network, which now boasts 1.15 billion users, video ads will be lucrative. Brands can expect to spend between $1 million and $2.5 million a day.
Facebook needs to tread carefully with its rollout of video ads, keeping the user in mind. Here's a look at what we know about the upcoming addition to news feeds, and what Facebook can do to ease the transition.
1. Ads Will Be Brief
You probably won't be happy with watching commercials while browsing your news feed, but remember that the social network is a service, and you use it for free.
Citing anonymous sources, Bloomberg reported that Facebook's video ads -- which will look a lot like short TV ads -- will last 15 seconds. That's a lot shorter than many television ads.
This length was likely strategically chosen: Photo-sharing site Instagram, which Facebook acquired in April, recently launched a video capability that lets users upload and share 15-second videos. Since many Instagram users also post their photos and videos to Facebook, you may already be used to the video length.
What's still unknown is how these ads will be displayed: full-screen or in-line. Full-screen ads are more intrusive to users, but are guaranteed views for advertisers. Ads that play automatically within the news feed are more user-friendly, but may not be as attractive or powerful to advertisers.
2. Ads Will Be Infrequent
You're probably most concerned with how often your browsing will be interrupted by an ad playing. This is an area in which Facebook must tread carefully: Show too many ads and users will abandon the service.
According to reports, you can expect to see commercials in your news feed no more than three times a day. Last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he's sensitive to how users react to advertising, which is why he plans to limit the number of ads you see to about one for every 20 updates, or comprising about 5% of your news feed.
The set frequency for these commercials seems fair: Think about how often you're served an ad when browsing YouTube. But other factors that determine just how intrusive or not these ads become are still unknown: the placement of the commercial (top of news feed versus further down); how far they're spread out; and whether the content is relevant to those it's targeted to.
It wouldn't be wise for Facebook to place ads at the top of your news feed -- if it's the first thing you see when you log in, many users will be tempted to sign out. Placing the ads further down the news feed -- or after 20 updates like it does for other ads -- seems more reasonable.
3. Your Demographics Determine What You'll See
Facebook's traditional ad platform lets businesses target their audience based on a number of factors, including geography, interests, age, gender, location, relationship status, education and more. Facebook's video ads, according to reports, will only let advertisers target you based on age and gender.
While these targeting options aren't as plentiful as Facebook's traditional ads, they still offer better targeting than what is sold on television, possibly making the price point -- of up to $2.5 million per day -- more worthwhile to executives.
It would be smart for Facebook -- and better for advertisers -- to serve you ads that interest you based on more than just your gender and age. TV networks that offer online streaming give users the option to rate whether or not a commercial was relevant, aiming to serve you more appropriate ads. While it doesn't appear this is in the immediate plans for Facebook's initial video ads, it could be an option in later iterations.
Tell us what you think: Will Facebook ads be too intrusive? What kinds of options would you like to see as a user?
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