In the past week, Facebook & YouTube have both announced some changes to their video advertising formats. A couple of years ago, I would have channeled Star Trek’s Commander Leonard “Bones” McCoy, M.D. and began this column by ranting, “I know engineers, they LOVE to change things.” But, it is hard to get worked up when both video platforms showed that the changes they were talking about will not take place until later this year or next year. Hey, I know video marketers. They HATE to change things. But, with that kind of advanced warning, who can complain?
So, what are these changes? Why did FB, whose mantra for developers has long been “move fast & break things,” and YouTube, which changes at a rate of 33% a year, decide to alert us to those alterations in their video advertising formats some months in advance?
New Ways to Watch Facebook Video
On Feb. 14, 2017, FB announced four news ways to watch Facebook video. The change involves bringing sound to videos in the News Feed between now & the end of the year. Video marketers know, videos in the News Feed have played silently up to— unless users tapped on a video to hear the sound. But, as younger people have been following more Snapchat videos on their smartphones, they have apparently come to expect sound when the volume on their device is turned on.
So, FB has decided – after testing sound on in its News Feed & “hearing positive feedback” – to carefully follow in Snapchat’s footsteps & slowly bring sound to more people, as well. When this update rolls out, sound will fade in & out as FB users scroll through videobuilder in their News Feed.
If your smartphone is set to silent, then Facebook videos will not play with sound. If you don’t want videos to play with sound, then you can disable the feature by switching off “Videos in News Feed Start with Sound” in Settings. FB also says it will be showing in-product messages to tell everyone about the new sound on experience & controls.
In other news, FB also announced adjusts to make vertical videos look better on mobile devices. It made it possible to minimize the video you hare following to a picture-in-picture view that keeps playing in the corner while you browse other stories in News Feed. And it showed a new Facebook video app for TV. But, those changes are less likely to ruffle anyone’s feathers.
I had lunch in New York City last week with a couple of people who work at a company that supports digital advertising services to 91% of Ad Age 100 brands. They wanted to know what I thought about FB videos starting to autoplay with sound. All media companies have to carefully balance what readers, listeners, viewers, and users want with what advertisers would like to have. Back in the late 1980s & early 1990s, two-thirds of the advertisers in PC/Computing wanted their advertisements to appear in the first third of the magazine, though reader research showed that the best popular part was the middle of the publication where the cover story ran. Advertisers may prefer that their videos autoplay with the sound on, but that may / may not be welcomed by the vast majority of FB users.
Why would Snapchat users expect sound when following a video? Because it typically comes from one of their friends. It does not come from an advertiser. With the advent of Facebook Live, we may see a similar response, but it is too soon to tell.
So, why would FB hear “positive feedback” after testing sound on in its News Feed? Well, not every FB user sees videos in their News Feed. As far as we know, only 500 million FB users even see videos, the test may have been conducted using the video-friendly segment of the social network’s users. And 85% of these FB users currently watch videos with the sound off. So, did FB conduct its test using the 15% that watch videos with the sound on? As the social network rolls out videos that autoplay with sound, will the feedback go on be as positive?
For a company that celebrated its 13th birthday, the social network is showing a lot of maturity. But, video marketers could still watch this particular change like a hawk, because sound may not be welcomed by as many FB users as advertisers would like. The jury is still out.
YouTube to End 30 Second Unskippable Ads
Meanwhile, over in the UK, Google supported an official statement to plan on Feb. 17, 2017 YouTube will stop supporting 30-second unskippable ads next year. A Google spokesman added YouTube will “focus instead on formats that work well for both users & advertisers.”
The 30-second unskippable ads were popular with advertisers. So, apparently this format did not work for YouTube users, who have come to expect the ability to select which video ads they want to watch – which is what TrueView video ads gave them 7 years ago. Now, advertisers will have until 2018 to make changings to their plans. And video ads that are shorter than 30-seconds, including 20-second spots, could still be made unskippable. Kudos to YouTube for giving us a “heads up” that changes are coming down the road. For a company that celebrated its 12th birthday, the video-sharing site is showing a lot maturity. But, video marketers could recognize that YouTube appears to be giving its users want they want while FB is testing the limits of what its advertisers could like to have.
Though both video platforms and trying to balance the 2 competing forces that some media company feels, one is zigging, while the other is zagging. That means this is not a horse race where both competitors are trying to pull out ahead of every other on the same well-defined track. This is more like cross-country running where 2 different teams are competing in a race across open-air courses over natural terrain that isn’t well marked. That makes the changes to Facebook & YouTube’s video advertising formats well worth watching – even if we will not know the outcome until next year.