Coming Soon to Facebook: the Thing You Hate Most About TV

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
July 30 2013 7:51 PM

Coming Soon to Facebook: the Thing You Hate Most About TV

Facebook video ads
Waiting for the commercial to end is the new waiting for the page to load.

JanVicek / Shutterstock.com

You’re sitting on your living room couch watching a show, and it cuts to a commercial. You reach for your tablet and idly flip to Facebook—and it cuts to a commercial, too.

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

That could be the near-term future of primetime entertainment, judging from a new Bloomberg report. Two anonymous sources told the newswire that Facebook is planning to add “TV-style” video ads to users’ news feeds later this year. The ads are likely to be 15 seconds long—the same as the Instagram videos that the company launched last month. They’ll be targeted, but only based on age and gender, the same features that have formed the basis of TV-ad targeting for decades. But they’ll offer advertisers a chance to reach an audience larger than that of most TV shows, which is why word is that they might sell for up to $2.5 million a day.

Facebook wouldn't confirm the story, but it jibes with other recent reports and seems like a natural step from a business perspective. Bloomberg notes that Mark Zuckerberg has pushed back the ads’ start date at least twice, “wanting to make sure Facebook’s user experience won’t be tainted.” Good luck with that! Inevitably, people will be furious. As inevitably, people will eventually settle down and tolerate them.

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Don’t believe me? Consider that Facebook’s static news-feed ads have proven wildly successful despite a flurry of initial criticism. Video ads are far more intrusive, of course. If Facebook started playing them immediately when users loaded the site, that might well turn people away over time.

But Facebook isn’t stupid (though I’m certain at least one person in the comments below will snarkily disagree). My guess is that it will deploy the ads much like it does its static news feed ads, which appear a little way down the page, rather than at the top. You’ll load Facebook, check out a few friends’ status updates, and then the ad will appear and start playing. At first you might be able to click an “x” to turn it off, but eventually you’ll probably have to sit through them if you want to see what the rest of your friends have to say.

Annoying, sure. And maybe a few of the most casual users will find it to be the last straw. But the thing about Facebook is that, for a lot of the people who use it regularly, it’s not simply a pleasant experience—it’s a sort of addiction. Putting up with video ads in order to get your next fix will come as naturally as putting up with display ads or personal-data collection. Or, to put it another way, putting up with video ads on Faceboook will come as naturally as putting up with them on TV, which is plenty addictive in its own right.

If I’m wrong and the ads do drive people away, then maybe we will have finally found a cure for smoking: Require people to watch a video ad on the front of their cigarette pack before they can light up.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.