With no sign of Watch, Facebook mid-roll ads yield slim prospects for UK publishers

In the U.K., publishers are cool on Facebook’s mid-roll video ads.

Facebook’s way of monetizing video through mid-roll ad breaks has had mixed results in the U.S. The opportunity is even more fledgling in the U.K., where Watch, Facebook’s video destination, has yet to have a firm launch date. Facebook’s plan to prioritize users’ posts over publishers’ in the news feed has further stifled the chance of Facebook’s mid-roll making much of an impact in the U.K. For some publishers, it’s a bitter pill to swallow that a chunk of the revenue they could make through mid-roll ads will return to Facebook’s pockets, either through its commission structure or through promoting posts.

“Your mid-roll audience opportunity is immediately halved,” said one publisher, speaking anonymously to avoid jeopardizing relations with Facebook. “If mid-roll is a way to placate media owners and give them an opportunity to make money off content, then the content you can make money off is so limited because you’ll have to pay the way to get into the feed. It’s classic Facebook — it gives with one hand and takes with the other.”

Even before Facebook’s news feed change, which shocked some, but not all, publishers, mid-roll revenue in the U.K. was disappointing some of those that tested it. One publisher that has experimented at length with using mid-roll ads said it didn’t generate nearly enough revenue from using Facebook’s mid-roll ads to cement the format into its long-term publishing strategy.

“Advertising on mid-roll is not going to work as a business model,” said the publisher. “It’s not something to hang your video strategy on. Like most publishers, we’ve had a wake-up call that as a video business, not to put all our eggs in one basket.”

For this publishing exec, revenue from mid-roll ads quadrupled during November and December, reaching at its peak just five figures in revenue. That spike could have been due to Facebook giving preferential pricing when selling ads during Black Friday and Christmas, according to the same exec. Before that, a video fetching a few hundred thousand video views would get up to $50.

When contacted for this story, Facebook said it had no new updates to share. Publishers say Watch is due to roll out in the U.K. in the coming months, but no date has been set. In December, the platform announced it would change its mid-roll product in January, extending the required video length for running mid-roll ads from 20 seconds to 60 seconds before showing the first ad and requiring a minimum of three minutes of content rather than 90 seconds.

Not all publishers find revenue from mid-rolls insignificant; some see it as incremental revenue to content that’s already being created. A digital publisher contacted for this story has worked with Facebook on improving formats and sequencing for user experience on mid-rolls across the U.S. and U.K., and it also saw revenue from mid-rolls reach new highs at the end of last year.

“From a U.K. perspective, we have been happy with the revenue scale and improving yield in 2017,” said the publisher. “It’s not insignificant for us. Obviously, [it’s] dependent on your existing social Facebook video scale, which we have.”

Scale of video in the news feed is critical, but publishers cooling on mid-rolls would likely lead to a drop in investment in quality video content if it can’t be monetized.

“Facebook doesn’t want to encourage a relationship where it funds content,” said the second publisher. “A lot of the content will be off the shelf, probably not created by the person putting it out there.” Publishers have also noted instances where videos are looped in order to reach the maximum length to claim a mid-roll — another knock to the user experience.

For some ad agencies, the possibility of poor user experience — including repeated videos — is enough to make them opt out of Facebook mid-roll ads entirely. Equally, the placement of the mid-roll ads uses time-based triggers, which could end up jarring. On YouTube, publishers say you can place breaks manually or use automatic placement, which is based on audio and scene changes.

“There’s no need for our advertisers to go there,” said Ben Foster, digital client director at media agency MC&C, which spends millions of dollars annually on advertising on Facebook. “Right now, it’s not overly appealing until content becomes more premium.” Of equal concern is that ads are served based on audience preferences, rather than environment, raising eyebrows around brand safety and context.

“Arguably within the news feed, you don’t control adjacent content anyway,” said Katie Manor, head of paid social, worldwide, at MediaCom. “That’s what you accept with the way that platforms serve social content.”

MediaCom has been testing mid-roll ad breaks for around five clients globally and has been pretty satisfied with the results, particularly around viewability, which in some cases has doubled from industry standards of around 30 percent for social video, as people are waiting for content they are willing to watch.

“We’re mindful of many brands’ safety and targeting concerns,” said Manor, “so we make sure we apply the same targeting parameters.”


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