Facebook wants to automate publishers’ direct-sold video ad deals

Facebook is testing a program to facilitate publishers’ direct-sold video ad deals with A&E Networks, ESPN, Hearst and Scripps.

Already a dominant audience conduit, Facebook is looking to play an even bigger role in publishers’ ad businesses.

A year after Facebook started auctioning off publishers’ in-stream video ad inventory through its Audience Network ad network, the social network has started taking part in the deals that publishers strike directly with advertisers for video ads running on the publishers’ own sites, mobile apps and internet-connected TV apps, the company announced on Tuesday.

Through a program called Audience Direct, Facebook will automate these direct-sold video ad deals by offering a self-serve platform that publishers and advertisers can use to plug in the details of these deals so Facebook can track that the ads were shown to the intended audience and report the delivery results back to the publishers.

The program enables Facebook to monitor the audiences on publishers’ properties and tie them to their Facebook profiles in order to assess the demographic information of a video ad’s viewership, like viewers’ age and gender. That’s the same kind of thing that Facebook had promised when debuting its now-defunct Atlas ad server in September 2014.

Facebook is testing the program with several publishers, including A&E Networks, ESPN, Hearst Television, Scripps Networks Interactive and Tubi TV. During the test phase, Facebook is not charging advertisers or publishers for access; the company will eventually charge “a small fee” but is still working out how to structure the price of the program, Facebook’s VP of publisher solutions, Brian Boland, said in an interview on Tuesday.

While the program is intended to facilitate publishers’ ad sales and ensure the accuracy of advertisers’ campaigns, it could also be something of a Trojan horse. By participating in the program, publishers are giving Facebook a better window into their video ad businesses at a time when Facebook is trying to ramp up its own video ad business. However Boland explained that Facebook’s sales team will not be able to access any of the data from the Audience Direct program.

“One of the things that we’ve done in how we’ve structured my organization and my team is we are a group separate from our media sales teams. The product strategy is separate. My execution teams are separate. We’ve made it so that the tools are not accessible across teams, so there aren’t learnings that can be transferred from my team over to another team,” said Boland.

Facebook isn’t the only member of the digital advertising duopoly trying to take part in publishers’ direct deals. Two years ago, Google rolled out its own program to automate publishers’ direct ad sales, and in late 2016, it made a lot of noise about how much that business has grown, particularly the video side of it.


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