Facebook Gets Pickier About Which Shows Can Be Monetized With Mid-Roll Ads

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MENLO PARK, Calif. – Facebook is getting more selective about which video shows on Watch, its video-on-demand service, can be monetized with mid-roll ads, according to a report in Digiday.

Publishers that have both sold shows to Facebook and created independent Watch pages say Facebook has become disappointed in the overall quality of much of the programming done for Watch – a situation that has left Facebook with little ad demand.

One publishing source told Digiday that when Facebook first launched Watch last August, it sought a lot of shows quickly. “The incentive was that we’d be able to run mid-roll ads, and there was going to be a distribution bump because Facebook was favoring longer videos,” the unnamed source noted.

Initially, Facebook required videos to be at least three minutes long to run mid-roll ads, and ad breaks can’t appear until one minute into the video. Now, Facebook is advising publishers to hold off with new shows and adds that “monetization is going to take some time.”

Sahil Patel, a reporter with Digiday, says the issue seems related to quality ad inventory and brand safety, “and the fact that Facebook still can’t get enough people to actually watch and complete the mid-roll ads.” 

One source told Patel that Facebook has been telling media partners the new vetting is an attempt at “ensuring quality content.” 

Patel says the less control Facebook has over who gets to publish inside Watch, the more likely the platform will include cheaper fare that doesn’t align with the idea of Watch being a premium, TV-like environment for professionally produced shows.

“I’m already starting to see the bastardization of shows,” said one source. “Some companies are launching show pages with content that isn’t actual shows; they’re just three-minute prank videos.”

Analysts say that, ultimately, these moves are part of Facebook's broader play to lure TV ad dollars that are increasingly shifting to digital. 

In addition to focusing on curating "quality" content, Facebook is reportedly bolstering its Watch video push by bringing in talent from other companies. Last week, Facebook hired the former head of Buzzfeed Studios, Matthew Henick, to lead the company's global video content strategy and planning as well as former Pinterest ad product lead Mike Bidgoli to head the company's Watch product team. Both hires confirm Facebook's shifting Watch strategy as it looks to boost viewership of the section's content. 

Some say in curating more premium content for Watch, Facebook aims to overcome its social rivals, Snapchat and Twitter, who are stepping up their TV-like content offerings.

Snapchat plans to double the number of shows it creates this year to 80, while Twitter unveiled nearly a dozen live programs for its platform last year.