Of course the first time I find an ad interrupting a video on Facebook would happen while watching a video titled “No pants in court.”
The video, about a Kentucky judge berating the local jail for sending a defendant to her courtroom sans pants, posted by millennial-centric news publisher Mic appears to be part of the test Facebook announced last month that it would start slotting mid-roll ads within non-live videos and split the revenue with the publisher.
Here is what I saw when I came across a Facebook ad break (to see for yourself, Mic’s original video is embedded at the bottom of this article).
Other than the novelty of an ad interrupting a Facebook video, there isn’t much surprising about the ad break, at least not for anyone who’s been following the news of Facebook’s plans since January.
Is the video at least 90 seconds long? Yes, barely.
Does the ad appear after the video has been playing for at least 20 seconds? Yes, I got a whole 60 seconds of ad-free viewing.
Is the ad no longer than 15 seconds? Yep.
But a few things did stand out, like how Facebook notifies the viewer that an ad is coming, how soon it will end and who the advertiser is, as well as Facebook’s apparent laissez-faire attitude to whether the advertiser makes sense in context.
A couple of seconds before the mid-roll ad interrupts the video, an “Ad break starting” message appears in the lower left corner. When the ad does play, a countdown timer — and sometimes a yellow progress bar — appears below the video to let you know how long until you can get back to what you were originally watching.
If you’re watching the ad break in the full-screen video player in Facebook’s mobile app, the name of the advertiser will appear next to the countdown timer, as well as a button to follow the brand on Facebook. That also happens if you’re watching the video in-feed on Facebook’s desktop site. But on desktop, if you click to expand the video to Facebook’s lightbox-style player, that extra advertiser callout and follow button are nowhere to be found.
Facebook doesn’t seem to be exercising much discretion when deciding which advertisers make the most sense to appear in the middle of a video. I’ve been shown mid-roll ads for the upcoming King Kong movie, a fancy wallet Tony Stark might use, an insurance marketing and sales conference and a cloud computing conference.
Maybe Facebook figured, “Tim, you’re watching a random video; here are some random ads.” Or maybe I’m part of some random test group. Or maybe Facebook really isn’t that concerned with context, even though some advertisers are.
When the news broke in January that Facebook would start running these mid-roll ads, I asked some agency execs for their thoughts. A few were concerned about the lack of control Facebook offered brands over what categories of content their ads would appear within. Advertisers can block three content categories: “debated social issues,” “mature audiences” and “tragedy and conflict.” But they cannot specify other content categories that they do or do not want to advertise against.
Maybe the lack of contextual ad targeting will change once Facebook advances these ad breaks in non-live videos from a test to an official product, as it has with ad breaks in live videos. Or maybe that will happen once Facebook releases its first original shows in a bid to take on YouTube and Netflix. Or maybe it won’t, and I’ll spend those 15 seconds waiting for my video to restart, wondering why this woman was forced to go to court without any pants.