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Many media buyers have tested mid-roll placements on Facebook Watch, but few truly understand if those ads work well because Facebook doesn’t provide enough stats or work with third-party vendors to quantify performance. In spite of Watch advertising’s existing limitations like lack of direct buys and transparency, advertisers said they would like to spend more on Watch, as Facebook is fixing those problems and buying more sports content.
For starters, buying ads on Watch lacks flexibility at the moment. Watch ads, mid-roll videos that are less than 15 seconds, are only available through audience-based buys instead of direct buys from publishers, according to media agency executives.
For instance, if a brand wants to reach 30- to 50-year-old business professionals in an ad campaign, it can’t specifically buy ads on, say, Entrepreneur’s “Elevator Pitch” episodes on Watch. Instead, the brand can only enter its targeting parameters and select “in-stream video” on its Facebook dashboard, and Facebook will then automatically place ads for the brand wherever it makes sense (which may include Watch) based on the brand’s targeted audience, according Michael Dobson, group director of social media for media agency Crossmedia.
“Hopefully in the near future, Facebook will have sponsorship-type buys available, allowing brands to drive relevant connections to Watch ads that are running,” said Dobson. “Snapchat and Twitter actively allow you to do [sponsorships] currently, so it only makes sense that Facebook would soon allow this type of buy.”
Meanwhile, reporting on Watch ads lacks transparency. There are two different “in-stream” placement options for advertisers, one for ads on Facebook that includes Watch, and the other for ads on Audience Network that includes other apps and websites outside of Facebook. Both ad options are purchased and delivered in an automated way. While advertisers can get performance reports on in-stream ads from Facebook for both options, it’s unclear how much Watch ads have contributed to the overall in-stream performance on Facebook, according to media buyers. (It also allows Facebook to obscure how many videos — a lot — don’t reach the mid-roll break.)
“Facebook’s own reports show that people tend to stay longer in the Watch environment, but advertisers can’t verify that with a third party today,” said Kieley Taylor, managing director and global head of social for GroupM. “Facebook is in the process to add DoubleVerify or Integral Ad Science to validate brand safety, and third-party viewability via Moat and IAS is on the road map for in-stream video.”
Ben Hovaness, executive director and digital activation for Hearts & Science, agreed that advertisers can’t isolate ad performance on Watch, but he thinks that will change if Facebook’s plan is to mimic YouTube and scale pre-roll ads on Watch this year. “Watch will have its own placement with the rollout of pre-roll,” he said. “YouTube provides us with ad performance against each video. If Facebook is looking to mirror an ad product that has YouTube attributes, it should offer advertisers the same level of transparency.”
There are also some highly political shows like The Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” on Watch, which may be seen as too controversial for some brands during a time when advertisers are pulling ads from mainstream hard-news sites. While advertisers can exclude certain content categories on Watch, it doesn’t have enough granularity, according to Hovaness and Taylor.
Despite these limitations, media buyers believe ad dollars will still flow into Watch, as Facebook is working to address the drawbacks. And for brands that prioritize ad prices over anything else, Watch could be cost-efficient because the more types of ad placements an advertiser puts into its media deal with Facebook, the cheaper the ad price will be, according to Hovaness. “Dynamic pricing plays a role here,” he said.
Facebook is also increasingly focused on live sports, which may make Watch more enticing for advertisers, said Taylor. Carly Carson, social account supervisor for agency PMG, agreed that content relevancy will be key in making Watch the right fit for advertisers. For instance, Facebook is putting a concerted effort into driving users to engage with relevant content leading up to the Super Bowl with a documentary series “Tom vs. Time,” which features NFL quarterback Tom Brady, according to Carson.
“Timely content series like this will hopefully build frequency and user adoption for Facebook Watch, making this a more high-profile and relevant ad placement for advertisers who can’t opt in to large events like the Super Bowl,” said Carson.
Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly stated that Watch was included as part of Audience Network video performance. It has been changed to reflect that Watch is included as part of Facebook in-stream results. Digiday regrets the error.