Facebook, in a move poised to give a major boost to its position as a mass media platform, will soon start placing video ads into users' feeds.
A small number of the site's 1 billion-plus users will begin seeing video ads this week on both desktop and mobile devices as Facebook tests the format, the company said Tuesday. The ads will begin playing automatically as they appear on screen, but without sound. The sound can be turned on by clicking or tapping on the video.
There will not be a way to prevent the ads from playing, but people can scroll past them and the video will stop playing, Facebook said. Additional content will appear at the end of the video that users can click on.
On mobile devices, the videos will be downloaded only when the person is on a Wi-Fi network, so there is no additional data consumed, the company said.
The new format, Facebook said, is designed to let marketers reach a large amount of people in a short amount of time. It follows some previous refinements Facebook made in September to the way videos play on its site.
The first such ads will be for the upcoming science fiction adventure film "Divergent." Facebook described the new format as an initial, limited test. So users shouldn't expect, at least for the time being, for their feeds to become chock full of promotional videos.
But for the format to succeed, Facebook needs to strike a balance between providing an effective way for businesses to market their brands without annoying its users. The introduction of video ads may not have a drastic effect on users' acceptance of the site, but the company needs to consider the context of the ads, said Andrew Frank, an industry analyst with Gartner.
Facebook's ad targeting technologies are already complex, but the site may need to make new considerations around providing ads to the right people at the right time, he said.
In recent months, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has described the site's ambitions to become a digital newspaper, so video ads might follow from that. The new format could also bolster Facebook's efforts to funnel more advertising dollars away from television, Gartner's Frank said.
In its announcement, Facebook referred to the "high-quality sight, sound and motion" that would characterize the video ads. "That sounds like an elevator TV pitch deck to me," said Frank.