Facebook is stepping up its brand-safety controls for news-feed video

Facebook will give advertisers more control over what videos their ads appear in to assure them their money won’t pay for in-stream ads in inappropriate videos, according to three ad tech executives with knowledge of the plan.

Facebook declined to comment on the record. The executives said the social network is seeking to work with companies including OpenSlate and Precise.TV, which helped YouTube and its advertisers deal with its brand-safety crisis of 2017.

Tests planned for later this summer will pave the way for brands to target in-stream ads to users based on the content of the video they’re watching. Contextual targeting will be rolled out across the social network if the tests are successful, said one of the ad tech executives. The value of contextual targeting has had something of a renaissance post-GDPR, so it makes sense for Facebook to have a contextual solution of its own.

Until now, Facebook advertisers have only been allowed to block by category or publisher the videos they don’t want their in-stream ads to appear in, which leaves them at risk of buying in-stream ads in inappropriate content from publishers they’ve never heard of.

“Targeting in-stream ads in the news feed doesn’t allow for much contextual relevance because it’s more about the audience-based targeting,” said one of the executives, speaking on condition of anonymity. “That’s changing as more video content goes into the news feed, alongside the anticipated growth of IGTV and Facebook Watch, which means Facebook has to start giving brands more control over what kinds of videos their in-stream ads appear in if it’s to sell more inventory.”

A strong brand-safe option for its most premium inventory could be key to Facebook’s growing its in-stream video ads, which are still a significant portion of Facebook’s business compared to Facebook Watch and IGTV. To grow this inventory, Facebook has been buying a lot of video inventory from publishers and has even agreed to let others sell their own in-stream ads. Many advertisers feel Facebook video ads are too expensive for the results they’re getting, yet many want viable competitor to YouTube.

Facebook has had challenges weeding out fake news and hate speech. Earlier this year, it introduced brand-safety features including the ability for brands to buy ads against what it considers its most brand-safe videos. Ad buyers were wary of the promise at the time because it gave them limited control over where their ads would appear. Facebook, it would seem, has listened to some of that feedback.

Advertising execs welcomed the latest step.

“We haven’t yet engaged with Facebook to the same extent as we have with Google and YouTube over brand safety, but we’re now seeing a willingness from the social network to start those conversations,” said Stephan Loerke, CEO at trade body the World Federation of Advertisers. “Advertisers need to have the ability to make informed choices on what’s right for their brand when it comes to brand safety on Facebook. That means having much more granular settings, which help the brand owner take responsibility for where their ads are being placed.”

“Blacklisting of inappropriate content is common practice in other media channels, so Facebook allowing the same level of control should aid rather than hamper the growth of in-stream usage by brands,” Liz Duff, head of media and investment at Total Media.

“There have been high-profile problems with the safety of in-stream before, but with the shift in public perception over the last six months, the overall importance of brand-safety seems to have hit home a lot more,” said Conor Lynch, senior paid media manager at We Are Social.


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