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Advertisers are still skeptical about Facebook's video ads

An attendee uses his mobile phone to film a Facebook Inc. Live video as Paddy Cosgrave, chief executive officer of Web Summit, speaks during the Lisbon Web Summit venue in Lisbon, Portugal, on Monday, Nov. 7, 2016.
Paulo Duarte | Bloomberg | Getty Images
An attendee uses his mobile phone to film a Facebook Inc. Live video as Paddy Cosgrave, chief executive officer of Web Summit, speaks during the Lisbon Web Summit venue in Lisbon, Portugal, on Monday, Nov. 7, 2016.

The advertising community isn't sold on Facebook's push to be a dominant digital video advertiser.

Facebook has been heavily investing its video products, and it's telling advertisers it is an equal alternative to TV advertising, according to one media buyer. The company reportedly spent $50 million last year to pay publishers and celebrities to create original videos, according to the Wall Street Journal, and has announced plans to invest in more original and licensed videos. CEO Mark Zuckerburg told BuzzFeed that in five years, he expects most of the content that people will see and share on the platform will be video.

While most agree Facebook's targeting capabilities are excellent, agencies don't think its video products, such as branded autoplay videos that appear in users' News Feeds, are worth premium pricing. While no one is moving money away from Facebook, many said they're not thinking about shifting budgets from competitors like YouTube to buy Facebook video ads or create branded video content for the platform.

Ad buyers cited several problems:

1. Brands can't control what content their ads will be next to

One point of contention is brands can't select what kinds of content they to appear next to, a common problem online. While YouTube allows companies to select topics they want their ads to run on, Facebook only targets users based on interest.

"It's the reason why we haven't recommended Facebook for certain clients," said Matt Borchard, media director at media agency Noble People. "You don't know if you're going to appear next to a horrible thing, or something that is very left or very right."

Live video is also causing concern because advertisers don't know what's going to happen on live feeds. They worry their advertisements may be placed in the middle of controversial events, like shootings or other crime.

"Brands are still getting used to moving faster in the age of social media, to do something where you can't review it at all," said Brendan Gahan, executive vice president of influencer marketing agency Epic Signal. "There are a lot of companies where getting a tweet done takes rounds and rounds of approval. Getting somebody in front of the camera where you can't edit anything is new frontier."

2. It mostly reports internal numbers

Facebook does allow independent third-parties to measure some aspects like viewability. But for the most part, it reports its own internal numbers on views, length of views, and other aspects.

Facebook has recently had some stumbles when it comes to delivering accurate measurements to advertisers, including overestimating average video viewing time and discrepancies between the metrics shown on mobile and the dashboards for page owners, although none of the issues affected pricing.

"It's hard self-managing and self-moderating numbers," said Harry Kargman, CEO of mobile advertising firm Kargo. "There's not as much friction when you're trying to figure out how many particular ads play and are shown. The problem is when you see issues, you are tempted to brush them under the rug."

A television video person uses an iphone and stabilizer to film for facebook live broadcast before the game between the Syracuse Orange and the Louisville Cardinals on September 9, 2016 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York.
Brett Carlsen | Getty Images
A television video person uses an iphone and stabilizer to film for facebook live broadcast before the game between the Syracuse Orange and the Louisville Cardinals on September 9, 2016 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York.

3. A low bar for counting views

Facebook also counts any video that's viewed for at least three seconds, even if the sound is off. That means Facebook could be counting video views that happen just as a user is scrolling through her news feed, said Kargo CEO Harry Kargman.

Watch times are very low, especially compared to YouTube. Most companies are focused on making sure that people actually paid attention to their ads, making ad view length more important than the number of people who saw it, several media buyers said.

Facebook does allow advertisers to pay more for views that are guaranteed to be at least 10 seconds, or optimize their buys for longer view times. However, the difference between someone viewing your ad for 3 seconds or 10 seconds is negligible on consumer impact because both are so short, according to one media buyer. At that point and price, you may as well buy a TV commercial, they added.

4. A history of changing courses

Last, brands are concerned about Facebook's history of pushing certain ad products, then pulling away resources so brands have to pay more to get the same results.

Before its push into video, Facebook was telling companies the best way to advertise was to build a brand page, but in 2014 the company changed the algorithm for how brand pages were featured in people's News Feeds, Gahan said. As a result, pages showed up a lot less frequently for most users, forcing advertisers to take out ads to get people to go to them, he explained.

"Video and Live performs really well, but they are juicing it so its good for now," said Gahan. "We have to be tactful how much we invest, because it's their platform not ours. They've shown a track record to reel you in and then scale back so you have to pay for promotion."

For now, no one is pulling away from Facebook. But brands aren't planning to increase their investments on Facebook video, either.

"We've got a heavy presence there, but we're probably not going to spend any more brand dollars," said Noble People's Borchard.