Dear Facebook: Please Do Not Start Running Video Ads

facebokkEver since Facebook went public in 2012, the pressure has been on for the social networking site (if one considers posting baby photos and Buzzfeed links to be “social networking”) to start leveraging its massive audience for ad revenue. And back when its stock price was around the cost of lunch at a diner, auto-play video ads seemed inevitable. And even after recent upticks in Facebook’s value, it looks like the company wants to drive y’all away with these ads that consumers avoid like the plague.

Sure, Facebook could reportedly charge big-ticket advertisers upward of $2.5 million per day just to feature their loud, obnoxious, unwanted video ads that people only ever click on by accident. But the fact remains that these ads are loud, obnoxious, and unwanted.

The decision to place 15-second, unskippable video ads into users’ feeds reeks of hubris, of a website that doesn’t remember when MySpace thought it would be frickin’ rad to allow users to fully customize their pages — to the point of including auto-play audio and video. This is one of the reasons people flocked from MySpace to Facebook: for the simplicity, the ease of use.

Facebook provided a clean, uncomplicated feed of things your friends had to share — random thoughts, photos, links (along with all that early poking and vampire-biting). You can look at the site at work (assuming your employer doesn’t block it outright) without fear of unexpected, blaring video or audio bringing eyes and ears to your desk.

Even the YouTube and other video links available in the Facebook feed are currently unobtrusive, and more importantly the user must choose to watch them. Want to watch a movie trailer or YouTube video on your Facebook page, there’s nothing stopping you. But having videos that auto-play will only have users clicking furiously to close the window.

And once it becomes evident that they need to watch three of these things each day, how many people will be coming back when they can see the same photos in their friends’ Instagram feed (at least until Facebook pollutes that with video), the status updates on Twitter, random links, memes and other filler on Tumblr.

As Vistar Media’s Jeremy Ozen points out on Venture Beat, users currently skim over dozens of Facebook updates in only a few seconds, so the mere requirement of being subjected to 45 seconds of video in a day will be seen as a mammoth waste of time by users:

“Even if the ads are short, even if the ads play silently, even if they will only appear three times per day. Just think about how many status messages could be read during that combined 45 seconds.”

This is especially true for users who normally “dive bomb” into Facebook, swooping in for a very brief, intense period of use and then getting right back out again. That whole process can be as short as a few seconds, but if that swoop is suddenly interrupted — three times a day — by 15 seconds of commercial, it becomes a huge reason for that user to never come back.

Facebook could easily have been a fart-in-the-wind trend when it popped up eight years ago. Instead, it adapted to provide users with a wider array of tools for connecting with friends (and advertisers), and developed an unmatched global foothold. It has weathered lawsuits and a nearly endless (and ongoing) barrage of privacy concerns, but people still use it and no competitor has even come close to demonstrating the same level of interest or stamina.

Of course, for seven of those years, Facebook was just playing with venture capital cash, all provided on the promise that this could ultimately become a money volcano. Now that Facebook is sitting at the adults’ table and having to publicly answer to shareholders, it may be compelled to take the easy road to revenue.

And in the world of online advertising, video is currently king, with advertisers paying top-dollar to have their commercials, trailers, viral teasers, etc., shown to as many eyeballs as possible.

Facebook has those eyes, and can choose to force them to watch these clips in order to access the site. It will make them a lot of money in a very short time if advertisers go for it, but it could also drive a lot of users away in that same period of time, possibly never to return.

Finally, we beg advertisers to ask themselves what value a video ad has if millions of Facebook users are angrily muting their computers while they look away and wait for your commercial to end?

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