Facebook Confirms It Will Test Pre-Roll Ads

Screenshot of Facebook Watch video platform

MENLO PARK, Calif. - Facebook has confirmed reports it will begin to test six-second pre-roll video before videos within its Watch hub beginning in January. 

For years, Facebook has said it would avoid pre-roll ads in favor of its preferred mid-roll ad break format, but now it has reversed that call.

Facebook is also introducing new restrictions on when and which publishers and creators can insert mid-roll ads in their videos and changing how its algorithm decides which videos to prioritize in people’s news feeds.

Insiders say taken together, the changes underscore Facebook’s move from the one-off videos that popularized the medium to the episodic series that the company has been investing in to cultivate a more TV-like audience and attract TV-level ad dollars.

Pre-roll ads will only run within its Watch video hub. That limitation maintains Facebook’s long-held stance against pre-empting in-feed videos with ads and, since people must sit through the unskippable ads to see a video in watch, makes it more likely that the shows Facebook has paid publishers to produce for watch will return revenue to the company.

In a blog post last week, Facebook wrote: “While pre-roll ads don’t work well in news feed, we think they will work well in Watch because it’s a place where people visit and come back to with the intention to watch videos.” 

Facebook will fill the pre-roll inventory with any video ads that brands run on Facebook that are six seconds long and bought with the in-stream placement selected.

For mid-roll ads (or “ad breaks” in Facebook’s lingo), previously, videos had to be at least 90 seconds long to qualify for ad breaks, and those mid-roll ads could be inserted as soon as 20 seconds after the video started playing. Beginning in January, videos must be at least three minutes long, and mid-roll ads cannot be inserted until a video has played for 60 seconds.

Facebook also announced a limit on which publishers and creators are able to insert ad breaks into live videos. Last year, Facebook let any page or profile in the U.S. with at least 2,000 followers and 300 concurrent live viewers to place a mid-roll ad in a broadcast. Now the company is disabling the option for all profiles and for any page with fewer than 50,000 followers.

Finally, Facebook says its algorithm will now prioritize videos from publishers and creators that people regularly watch or actively seek out. The shift will apply to Facebook’s news feed and Watch’s discover tab and is likely to boost the reach and potential viewership of episodic series, such as the ones that Facebook is paying publishers to produce for watch.