Are You Ready for TV Ads on Facebook?

Facebook TV ads

Are You Ready for TV Ads on Facebook?
| Published March 19, 2014 |

By Thursday Review staff

As most Facebook users have noticed by now, there have been some changes of late. Among them, a slightly rearranged page (this met with the usual mixed reviews from Facebook frequenters), improved fonts for text, subject lines and headlines, and a few minor tweaks of basic applications and tools.

The typical crowd reaction to sudden changes on Facebook is generally one of confusion mixed with dissatisfaction, but the latest changes seemed to have evoked fewer complaints—on the whole.

Behind the scenes, Facebook has made bigger modifications, including one in which video advertising and video streaming will give the social media platform greater versatility—especially when it comes to television advertising. In short, Facebook wants to make your time spent on social media more like TV, complete with commercials inserted into your news feed. The process has already been tested in a few markets, and will roll out into other markets beginning in April. Once the minor glitches are resolved, Facebook hopes to have the process operating reliably everywhere by this summer.

This will no doubt create consternation among some FB users, and perhaps even a storm among others. But Facebook is rapidly looking for new, expanded ways to generate revenue, especially as their worldwide penetration begins to reach its ceiling, and as other forms of social media spring up to compete with FB.  The TV ad insertion is one way the California-based company can open up a new revenue stream.

At first, the ads will be limited to 15 seconds. Most web-generated ads already clock in at between 10 and 20 seconds, and many websites have ads that automatically open and begin playing upon arrived to a main page. Users and website visitors simply wait—and, in theory, watch—until the ad is complete, at which point the user can go onward about their business. Facebook is working on a process by which those short ads can run on a schedule and at various fixed times throughout the day. This would allow potential advertisers to pick and choose their demographics, or choose peak times (paying more for premium ad insertion).

The drawback for Facebook will be advertiser skepticism, since, unlike TV’s traditional model of fixed times—evening newscasts, sports events, and primetime programming like Big Bang Theory or How I Met Your Mother—web use and social media activity tends to move in highly unpredictable ebbs and flows. Give or take a percentage point, TV execs, marketers and advertisers can formulate a pretty good estimate of how many viewers will tune in to watch a specific college basketball game, House of Cards, Dateline NBC, or a particular episode of Game of Thrones.

Facebook, on the other hand, has fewer tools at its disposal to say ahead of time exactly how many people in the U.S. are online and in front of their computer or looking at their smartphone. But Facebook does have the distinct advantage of knowing a lot more about its users’ demographics than the TV networks, especially since the vast majority of FB users populate their page with detailed information about themselves, data which includes age, gender, religious preference, sexuality, birthdate, relationship status, employer, political leanings, language skills, and in many cases scores of photos (meaning Facebook and hundreds of potential advertisers can draw reasonable conclusions about race or ethnicity based on shared photos), not to mention the scores of “likes,” favorites and “following” preferences.

In that sense, Facebook can form highly accurate (even hyper-accurate) dossiers on its users, unlike the general range of estimates formed by CBS, NBC, ABC or Fox about viewers. Facebook says that under ideal circumstances the accuracy of its targeted ads is 92 percent.

Facebook is also modifying the way its existing ad structure works. This week Facebook sent emails to many of its business users explaining how the new process will operate, and one of the improvements will affect businesses which advertise the traditional way; on Facebook, that means through sponsored posts, which can appear in the right hand area of a user’s screen, or in the news feed itself. Facebook says advertisers will have more control over their budgets, and greater insight into how they can target their audience. (Disclosure: Thursday Review occasionally uses sponsored ads which enable us to reach more Facebook users than just those connected directly to us on FB, or among the networks of our friends).

The old Facebook template for advertising was general and vague, and many advertisers got mixed results. The intention of the new process is to allow a more surgical use of tools and resources to create more nuanced campaigns and ads, and more carefully developed ads to reach certain demographic segments of the Facebook market.  Time will tell whether this newly revamped process will work better for advertisers.

As for the TV spots, Facebook intends to be taken very seriously. It has begun working closely with the highly-respected ratings firm Nielsen to develop criteria for measuring viewership, a step believed necessary for FB to establish a long term relationship with the kind of national advertisers who are now already spend millions on TV. Facebook is also working with outside firms to insure that a minimum threshold of ad quality—appearance and technical aspects, for example—can be established.

Facebook is based in Menlo Park, California and boasts over 1.2 billion users worldwide.