Back in January, we mentioned Facebook has plans to roll out ads that play part of the way through videos. Well, now these plans are well underway, with the network testing the “mid-roll” ad format in the wild. Which gives us some extra clues about what to expect from the new ad format when the roll out for real.

Here’s what we’ve learned so far from Facebook’s early tests with mid-roll video ads – or ad breaks, as Facebook is calling them.

 

Facebook sticking to its numbers

As we mentioned in our original post, there are some perquisites to mid roll ads being eligible to play during a video. First of all, the video you start watching must be at least 90 seconds long to be eligible. Secondly, the initial video will play for at least 20 seconds before they can be interrupted and the ad itself can be no more than 15 seconds in length.

It seems Facebook is sticking to these requirements in testing, too. Any video that’s 90 seconds long or more is fair game and once they hit the 20 second mark an mid roll can play at any time. Some videos make it way past 20 seconds before being interrupted so there’s no knowing at this stage when your video will be paused.

Hopefully, Facebook will offer some kind of guideline line upon rollout so publishers know when their videos will be interrupted. The last thing you want is your footage to be cut at a vital moment. Plus, knowing when your video will be interrupted gives you the chance to place something interesting at the vital moment and give viewers a reason to watch the ad in full and then get back to your video.

 

Users get a warning but no option to skip

Based on tests so far, users will get a warning that an ad break is approaching, which appears at the bottom left of the screen.

Once the ad break begins users will then see a progress bar at the bottom of the video to give them an idea of how long the ad is.

As you can see, there’s no option for users to skip the ad if they’re not interested, as we’re used to seeing on YouTube’s pre-rolling ads. So users will have to watch the ad in full if they want to get back to the original video or give up on the thing altogether.

Of course, this is how things stand now during the test stage and there could be changes before rollout.

 

Relevance is a challenge

One of the main concerns voiced by publishers when Facebook announced mid-roll was relevance. Presumably, the ad breaks will enjoy the perks of Facebook targeting but this might not be enough when it comes to interrupting users who are watching some random clip on their News Feed.

The problem is relevance and ensuring mid-roll ads fit the context of the original video users are watching will be a real challenge.

You may have seen Tim Peterson’s article for Marketing Land where he shared his own experiences with Facebook ad breaks. His video (above) would have been better if it wasn’t so heavily edited but it shows the issue of context with this ad format. More than half way through watching a video about some US female prisoner who was sent to court without any “pants” is interrupted by an ad for a cloud computing conference. Random.

Of course, this doesn’t mean Facebook won’t improve the relevance of these ads before roll out. This is just the testing period after all, but there are obvious challenges with matching ad breaks with video content topically.