Facebook's Auto Play Video Ads 'Imminent'

Following months of testing and even longer periods of doubtful timelines, the culmination of auto play video ads on Facebook is approaching.

Facebook is in the final stages of testing an auto play video ad unit that will be released "imminently," says David Lawenda, head of global marketing solutions at Facebook. "I feel very good that we'll have a product to bring to the market in short order."

While the company's march to a mobile-first mindset and delivery has been persistent and widely recognized, Facebook is rising to the video occasion with a more deliberate rollout. Part of the delay could be due to the timidity of TV networks and film studios, but the launch also comes on the heels of notable changes to Facebook's ad products and rapid user growth on mobile.

[Related: Facebook's News Feed Gets More Commercial With Video Ads]

"The entertainment vertical is a big business for us, but it really is a tale of two cities," Lawenda said during his keynote at this week's Digital Entertainment World conference. While the TV business is "already eager to place big investments around their fall season," Lawenda says the film industry is a little slower to the draw.

Facebook Goes Hollywood

Lawenda, a longtime advertising executive, says he and his team just completed a second round of testing with the film studio Summit Entertainment and are currently preparing for a final round. With more than 25 years of experience in broadcast, cable TV and ad agencies, it's no wonder Lawenda was hired by Facebook last September to help make the case for televsion show promos and movie trailers to get airtime on the platform.

[Related: Facebook Buying WhatsApp for $16 Billion]

"I'll be meeting with the movie studios this week to help them see what is possible," he told attendees. "They should look at us like every other media platform that they're doing business with ... The same way they look at TV or other mass media, they should be looking at Facebook."

Lawenda says he was naturally drawn to Facebook because he loves "understanding and analyzing how new generations of consumers engage with content." Of course it doesn't hurt that he also believes Facebook is the greatest advertising and marketing opportunity that he will see in his lifetime.

Lawenda says his mission is to unlock that opportunity by convincing entertainment marketers to funnel more ad dollars to Facebook. A monumental task to be sure, but after all there is a lot of cheddar up for grabs with the TV ad business approaching $70 billion in the United States last year and almost $200 billion globally.

[Related: Facebook Testing its Ads in Third-party Mobile Apps]

"So many marketers today see Facebook as a social media tactic," he says. "We're not a cornerstone of the marketing plan today, and that's a missed opportunity."

With Facebook's advanced targeting capabilities and unparalleled reach, the platform should be viewed as an extension of any marketing team and conduit to their respective goals, Lawenda adds.

"I want to make sure that every marketer, regardless of vertical, is recognizing the power of our platform to drive really meaningful business results," he says. For the studios that means getting more value out of their audience by attracting potential moviegoers or TV viewers beyond their more explicit groups of fans.

Real-Time Conversations 'Not the Holy Grail'

Lawenda routinely highlighted Facebook's recent growth spikes throughout his keynote, claiming that the platform now "dominates real-time conversation" at a rate at least four times that of all other social platforms combined. "To us that's not the Holy Grail. It's one piece of the puzzle," he says. "We're focused on driving real business outcomes for a TV network and film studio& whether that's watching a TV show or going out and buying a movie ticket."

[Related: Video Ads Could Make Facebook Even More Annoying]

Indeed by placing a stronger focus on business objectives in its ad products, Facebook has been a making concerted effort since last spring to move away from marketing that is purely aimed at attracting fans and likes.

"Being part of the social conversation you can definitely drive bottom-line results, but I would argue if you're just focused on that you're not optimizing the opportunity," Lawenda adds. "Your fans are a very small piece of your potential customer base."

The transition to a more unified ad structure could also explain why Facebook has delayed its expansion into such an obviously lucrative market as auto play video ads. Nonetheless, Lawenda says there will be a "very big push on video" throughout the year.

"There's always been a premium for sight, sound and motion," he says. But with such a large portion of TV ad dollars going to waste every year, Lawenda says Facebook is confident it can do better. The platform "literally creates a no-waste environment" for advertisers, he adds.

"The business of marketing is really moving toward the business of personalization," Lawenda says. "It's not about social marketing. It's about marketing in a social world."

Matt Kapko covers social media for CIO.com. Follow Matt on Twitter @mattkapko. Email him at mkapko@cio.com Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook.

Read more about social media in CIO's Social Media Drilldown.

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