Facebook launches video ads - but says they won't chew through data plans

Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) is launching video advertisements on a small scale this week but claims the video ads will not consume users' data plans when they are viewed on mobile devices. That difference could be crucial, as consumption of data plans could impede video ad growth on mobile, where Facebook's business is booming.

The social networking giant said that this week "a small number of people" will see video ads for the new film "Divergent" begin playing in their News Feeds on mobile devices and desktop computers. According to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported on the ads, the ads will start appearing this Thursday.

That report, which cited unnamed sources, said that many advertisers had wanted Facebook to start selling video ads in time for the holiday shopping season, but Facebook delayed a launch and was concerned the ads could annoy users. The report also said that some advertisers that produced videos early in the year were frustrated when Facebook pushed back the launch, while other advertisers also worried the ads might turn off users.

Facebook said that on mobile devices, all videos that begin playing as they appear on the screen will have been downloaded in advance when the device was connected to a Wi-Fi network. Facebook said that the content will not consume cellular data plans, even if a user is not connected to Wi-Fi when the video is played.

Facebook spokesman Adam Isserlis told FierceWireless that "if a user never connects to Wi-Fi, then these videos will not begin to play directly in News Feed. A user would have to click on them to watch them." He said "if a video is click to play, then yes, it would consume data."

Facebook said video ads will begin to play as they appear onscreen, without sound, similar to how they behave when shared by users' Facebook friends or verified Pages. If users don't want to watch the video, they can simply scroll or swipe past it. If users click or tap on the ads, the video is played in full screen and the sound for that video will play as well. At the end of the video a carousel of two additional videos will appear, "making it easy to continue to discover content from the same marketers," Facebook said.

Facebook's business is increasingly mobile. In the third quarter, sales from mobile promotions made up 49 percent of its total ad revenue (which was $1.8 billion), beating out the 41 percent mark Facebook recorded in the second quarter and up dramatically from 14 percent in the year-ago period. Facebook said mobile monthly active users were 874 million as of Sept. 30, an increase of 45 percent year-over-year. Mobile daily active were 507 million on average for September 2013.

In November, Facebook joined the GSMA, signaling its intentions to become more deeply enmeshed in not only mobile devices but the standards and policy issues facing wireless carriers and vendors.

For more:
- see this Facebook post
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this AllThingsD article
- see this BBC article

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