Facebook is playing nicer with publishers by easing up on ad and content restrictions

Facebook pitch deck

Facebook has been letting some media companies sell their own mid-roll ad inventory while loosening up restrictions on content exclusivity on Watch, and some publishers are starting to reap the benefits.

Earlier this summer, Facebook began letting some publishers sell their own mid-roll ad inventory after initially doing all the selling itself. Only a handful of publishers are participating in this test, and while participating publishers could initially only sell inventory across their brands, they can now sell inside individual shows and pages, sources said.

In addition to letting publishers sell their own mid-rolls, Facebook has been willing to offer minimum guarantees on the inventory when Facebook does the selling, according to multiple sources. In some instances, Facebook is also offering ad credits to publishers with high-performing brand and show pages, sources said.

Facebook declined to comment on the record.

“They are becoming much more flexible in general,” said a publishing source, speaking anonymously since the exec is not authorized to speak about deal terms with Facebook.

These moves have helped publishers see more revenue come from Facebook’s mid-rolls. Some publishers previously said that Facebook mid-rolls were beginning to show signs of life this summer, with two top publishers on track to bring in as much as “double-digit millions” in Facebook ad break-related revenue in 2018. That said, Facebook video still requires a significant amount of volume and scale — at least more than a billion views per month — for the revenue to be meaningful, sources said.

As Facebook lets more video programmers sell their own ad inventory, the platform has also become more welcoming to content that’s not exclusive to Watch. Earlier this year, Facebook opened up Watch to more publishers and creators and let them upload individual videos instead of only serialized or episodic shows — bringing the video-viewing section even closer to becoming a YouTube clone.

“With the original incarnation of Watch, [Facebook] came to all of us around 18 months ago and basically said, ‘We want you all to create bespoke stuff for us; spend a bunch of money, we might pay a bit for some of it, and we definitely don’t want anybody but us selling it,’” said an exec at another TV programmer. “They’ve changed in the last nine months because there are very few people who can make a living producing content — which isn’t easy or cheap — with those kinds of restrictions.”

Facebook’s recent openness has piqued the interest of some TV programmers who distribute clips on YouTube and now see an opportunity to do the same with Facebook Watch, said a source at a big media company. On a couple of its properties alone, the company is making more than six figures in revenue per month from mid-rolls by syndicating clips through Facebook Watch, the source said. After pulling back from Facebook, the source said, “We are willing to get back in.”

Most publishers remain skeptical about Facebook Watch and mid-roll revenue as Facebook has yet to demonstrate that a significant number of its users actually choose to go to Watch repeatedly. The company has said that time spent on Watch has grown by 900 percent since the beginning of the year, but hasn’t specified what percentage of its users routinely go there or how much actual time users spend on Watch.

When asked if the ability of publishers to sell their own ad inventory on Facebook would encourage them to distribute more video on the platform, the second TV exec still seemed hesitant.

“There’s a cloud hanging over Facebook: Watch is still not there from a scale perspective, and monetization and brand safety are still big issues.”

Facebook will evaluate whether to expand the mid-roll test based on performance, sources said.


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