Will Facebook video ads hit digital content apps?

Facebook is gunning to pull TV ad spends to mobile through its GRP-based video ad sales play. So will Facebook video ads hit digital content apps’ monetization?

Will the bigger screen always be better?

I remember years ago, when I was editor of Impact magazine, I had met the then head of content & communication at a major multinational broadcast network in India, for a cover story. When I asked him for his views on the growing trend of increasing stickeness and time spent on mobile and smaller screens in the developed markets, and if the smaller screen would ever replace, he had said to the effect that there was no way the complete sensory pleasure of viewing great television content on a large TV screen could ever be replicated on a tiny one-, two- or three-inch mobile screen (that was the largest they were, then, 9 years ago).

I completely agreed with him then, and do so now too – if I am anywhere near a big TV screen, I will prefer it to a smart mobile device like a phone or a tab any day – every day of the week, month, year.

Nuke those ads:

The best thing my Tata SKY HD DVR does for me is it allows me to fast forward and totally ‘black out’, as it were, the annoyingly long and infuriating ad breaks. Seriously, I don’t recall a single commercial brand the ads of which I ‘viewed’ while fast-forwarding a recorded program on my HD DVR. The only ones I do remember are actually of cross-promoted TV shows and films, which are normally placed in the end of commercial breaks, and which are pieces of information I do look out for. Quantico on Star World, a film like Troy on MN+ HD, Angels and Demons on Star Movies Select HD, BIGG Boss Season 9 on Colors… you know…

I’ve mentioned this because it is proof of my strong dislike for TV ads that interrupt my television viewing. So if I were asked by Facebook to actually view video ads on my wall, in a carousel form, one after the other, I would try and close the delivery and ask Facebook to keep such stuff off my wall. I’m as allergic to the mercenary stuff Twitter spits and sticks on my Twitter feed too. Given the option, I’d pay to keep my Twitter feed clear of such stuff. So why would I want to watch ads-nauseum on the various walls of my social media dwellings?

Where’s the glue?

So, will the video ads, carousel or otherwise, on Facebook, force marketers and brand custodians of good and services that are currently using digital content platforms like hotstar and ErosNow? On a curiosity level, quite likely. But if that curiosity will convert into actual use? Seems equally unlikely.

Why? Because the glue that a hotstar and Eros Now use is of the extremely sticky, appointment-viewing-driven kind. The mobile device user hears or learns of and actively pursues the content to view it. It could be a live IPL match or a heartwarmingVirat Kohli gag, a startlingly edgy Kangana Ranaut-Imran Khan-Malishka conversation or a top movie or a Star Plus, Star One or Channel V show, or other interesting curated content like a high library value comedy like Sarabhai Vs Sarabhi on hotstar…

Or it could be a slew of top movies and tv shows from across channels like Colors and Sony, among others, including Comedy Nights With Kapil, plus an aerodrome-wide spread of great curated songs and videos ranging from the divine Lata Mangeshkar to today’s mindless hits curated from easy listenting / viewing to your gym workout and everything in between on Eros Now. I remember wanting to watch the film Tanu Weds Manu Returns again as soon as I watched it in a movie hall, just for Kangana Ranaut’s stunningly authentic and sensitive portrayal of a pure-hearted, simple Haryanvi girl. And the moment I heard it was available on Eros Now – and for free at that – I watch it the day it became available on the content platform. The key driver of course, therefore, is the urge to view. Appointment viewing.

Reactive, passive:

That’s the way we – OK, I, since I can only speak for myself – interact with Facebook. It is mostly reactive, responding to the notifications on my OnePlus. And when I do visit Facebook in response to a specific notification, yes, I do often linger there, meandering up and down my – or a friend’s – wall, passively checking things out. A share here, a Like or comment there, and, well, in that state, I really wouldn’t proactively click on a Video ad blinking-fed stupidly to me by some paying brand; and given my dislike for video ads that always interrupt my enjoyment of TV viewing, no, I’d never click on a video ad on Facebook. Unless, of course, it’s a frenzied attention grabber, which every video ad should be, but most aren’t.

Reached? Viewed?

So maybe on an OTS basis, video ads on Facebook would add to potential reach (most digital marketers prefer ‘potential’ over ‘actual’ to grossly inflate ‘reach’ numbers to vulgar but wholly unreal levels, but that’s a different story). But on the engagement level, it would be quite incomparable with the non-skippable-non-forwardable video ads on a hotstar. OK, we aren’t talking acceptance here, but brand recall would surely be far greater on hotstar with an immersed audience is told to put its content enjoyment into abeyance for just 30 seconds. Happily, the video ads on a hotstar aren’t too close to one another for comfort, so that disturbance is an acceptable trade off for the great content one went there specifically to watch, and which one gets for free.

A large, growing premium audience base:

But again, having said that, remember, there are close to 160 million users in India today who access the internet through their smart phones. That’s a massive number, and it’s growing at an equally large rate. Remember, a hotstar took off like a rocket to peg over 25 million downloads in less than 8 months of being launched, and was the fastest adopted app in India, period. Eros Now too is growing rapidly.

The thing that a marketer would be open to, of course, will be that while TV as a pipeline reaches the masses who are driven by appointment viewing, the large numbers of mobile audiences will give the marketer an additional audience that is large. Plus, by virtue of being reached through the digital-mobile pipeline, one that is of a different profile and probably rather unduplicated and therefore incremental.

What remains to be seen, also, is the purpose of the campaign: Is it purely brand introduction and recall, or what happens after a new brand name is made familiar – communicating the offerings, USPs, differentiators, the properties of the brand. For the former, the more the merrier, and if social can target a much larger potential audience at a small part of the traditional TV budgets, it could have itself a deal. It will. But I see mobile video ads getting more – if such a thing were possible – ‘undivided’ attention on a digital content platform app rather than on a social media web site – whether on a desktop or mobile — that doesn’t pull you into itself specifically seeking out the ads. Unless it’s able to able to serve out an ad wrapped in engaging and interesting content and not as a pure vanilla ad; even ice cream doesn’t work like that. And provided Facebook is willing to accept that a 3-second ‘view’ of a 15- or 30-second video ad shouldn’t count as a view. It takes an average of a 5-second fade-in-fade-out to establish even a logo pack shot, for God’s sake.

Do you also view your favourite TV shows recorded for convenience viewing? Do you skip the breaks, and therefore, per force, the ads? Can you honestly recall five brands the ads of which you remember having viewed in the breaks of your favourite TV shows that you had recorded and watched later?

All views are personal


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