Facebook is developing a brand-safety tool for advertisers to more easily manage blocking publishers and video creators from ad campaigns. That tool will be an API that will allow the third-party vendors that advertisers use to monitor content for brand safety to automate the management of advertisers’ block lists, a Facebook spokesperson previously confirmed to Digiday.

The block-list management tool is meant to assuage advertisers’ concerns with the ads running across Facebook’s Audience Network ad network and, perhaps more importantly, the growing number of videos on its platform from publishers and individual creators to which Facebook attaches pre-roll and mid-roll video ads.

Facebook has “definitely ramped up its sales focus” on in-stream video ads in recent quarters, said one agency exec. This exec had some clients in the fourth quarter of 2018 try out the placement that Facebook originally began testing in August 2016, but the exec described advertisers’ level of investment in Facebook’s in-stream video ads as “low.” “There’s so much questionable content that you’re aligning around that it’s not a great sale,” the exec said.

Facebook has given advertisers some controls to limit which publishers’ and creators’ videos their ads can appear against. Advertisers can block three categories of content — “debatable social issues,” “mature” and “tragedy and conflict” — and they can also create block lists of the specific publishers and creators — collectively dubbed Facebook Pages — that they want to prevent from carrying their ads.

However, multiple agency execs interviewed for this article said that the controls are insufficient given advertisers’ concerns following YouTube’s brand-safety issues and considering how similar Facebook’s in-stream video ads are to YouTube’s pre-roll and mid-roll ads.

“In-stream video is another place that the controls aren’t quite as robust as we would like,” said Carly Carson, social account supervisor at PMG.

Too many publishers to block
Advertisers can only block “a little over 1,000” Facebook Pages for an in-stream video campaign, according to the unnamed agency exec. A Facebook spokesperson said that the company only allows advertisers to block a certain percentage of eligible Pages at a time and that the number of pages that can be blocked is more than 1,000 (by comparison, advertisers can block up to 10,000 sites and apps for Audience Network campaigns). Considering that there are more than 38,000 Facebook Pages whose videos are eligible to carry an in-stream video ad, that limit is too low, said the exec.

Further complicating advertisers’ efforts to police whose videos can carry their ads on Facebook, Facebook is adding publishers and creators to its video monetization program at a rapid clip. According to the January 14 version of the publisher list that Facebook provides to advertisers through its Business Manager tool, there are 38,445 Facebook Pages in the video monetization program. Based on a review of that list by Digiday, 8,830 of those pages were added to the list within the past 30 days, and 3,944 have been added since the start of 2019 with Facebook Page names including “20Of1,” “Actionfullmoviesenglish,” “BrownvillesFoodPantryForDeer” and “xxSexi69xx.”

Facebook helps advertisers to narrow the number of publishers and creators they need to monitor by providing them with lists of the Facebook Pages whose videos may carry their ads before a campaign goes live as well as a report of where the ads appeared after they have run. From these pre- and post-campaign placement reports, advertisers can update their blocklists. However, that’s a manual process that has left ad buyers concerned they are not able to manage their blocklists as quickly and easily as they would need to avoid the types of brand-safety flare-ups that have been found on YouTube.

In-Stream Reserve
One recent way that Facebook has tried to address advertisers’ brand-safety concerns regarding its in-stream inventory was its In-Stream Reserve ad-buying program that was officially introduced in September 2018. Similar to YouTube’s Google Preferred program, Facebook’s In-Stream Reserve program limits an advertisers’ in-stream video ads to only run across a selection of a few hundred publishers and creators whose videos are considered by Facebook to be premium and brand-safe. However, even with that program, there are concerns about inventory quality because advertisers have to rely on Facebook to decide which publishers and creators qualify for inclusion.

“I would love to see a more whitelist approach to make sure we’re avoiding smaller creators or content that might not be as premium,” said Carson.

Advertisers’ unease with the inventory in Facebook’s In-Stream Reserve program appears to be reflected in the reductions that Facebook has made to the minimum spend commitment required for advertisers to access that inventory. After originally asking for a $750,000 minimum commitment over three months when it began pitching the program as a test last spring, Facebook lowered the price to around $250,000 by the time it officially announced the program in September, as Digiday previously reported. Then in Q4 the company lowered it to $125,000 with Facebook offering to match advertisers’ investment, so that if an advertiser agreed to spend $125,000, then Facebook would provide them with $250,000 worth of inventory, according to two agency execs.

Despite the dissatisfaction with Facebook’s current brand safety controls for its in-stream video ads, ad buyers are optimistic that Facebook will continue to provide them with more controls to mitigate the risk of appearing against undesirable content, if only because it’s in Facebook’s business interest to do so. The existing tools and the impending block-list management tool “are a foundation of how we would unlock more dollars” to spend on Facebook’s in-stream video ads, said Kieley Taylor, managing partner and global head of social at GroupM.

This article has been updated to clarify that the brand-safety tool that Facebook is developing is an API for third-party vendors to use for their own brand-safety tools that they provide to advertisers.

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