What Facebook Video Ads learned from Video on Instagram

by Ian Rosenwach on 12.18.2013

Remember Video on Instagram? It was announced 6 months ago with much fanfare as a new way for users to share stories. Instagram was owned by Facebook at that point, and still is. As Facebook was conceiving video ads it’s natural they’d look to Instagram for some insight and data.

Instagram may not be earning revenue with video ads, but what Facebook learned from Instagram is likely more valuable.

(Interestingly, Instagram’s marketing around Video on Instagram is much more focused on users sharing video content than how videos would look in Instagram feeds. There’s nothing on the fact that Instagram videos would auto-play in users Instagram feeds.)

User Experience

There is one key difference (with big implications) in the user experience in Facebook and Instagram videos.

Auto-play means that users won’t have to do anything for the video to start playing in their feed. As they scroll if they encounter a video it will just start playing.

  • Facebook Video Ads – auto-play with no sound
  • Video on Instagram – auto-play with sound

My guess is that Facebook learned that auto-play with video and sound turned off users. This isn’t surprising given the unpredictable nature of when an Instagram video would show up, and the fact that unexpected random audio could be disruptive to people in certain, quiet situations.

(My personal gripe with Instagram videos is that when I’m streaming content to my Apple TV via AirPlay from my iPhone, and an Instagram video shows up in my feed, the streaming stops and Apple TV errors out. It’s very annoying and I haven’t seen this happen with any other app).

Instagram must be instant

Performance is also an issue withs Instagram videos. Instagram users are accustomed to a lightning fast feed reading experience. Any disruption to that experience is a net negative. The face that Instagram auto-plays the video and audio means more content/bandwidth to instantly stream to the user. This content should be streamed as real-time as the rest of the photos in your feed.

This task might simply be technically impossible to launch at the scale that Instagram has. Another key learning for Facebook.

Advertiser Implications

Advertisers will certainly be happy that they can reach Facebook users in their news feed using professionally crafted videos, and that the video auto-plays in the Facebook feed. But you can’t tell the whole story with just a video. While silent movies have been a hit (like to the Artist), silent commercials have yet to take off.

While it’s a step toward capturing more of the $66 billion spent on TV ads, I don’t see this as a game changer for two main reasons –

  1. Without audio auto-play advertisers won’t be able to tell the full story with their ads.
  2. Lack of content control – while the News Feed is being editorialized over time, the bulk of the content in the feed is “amateur” in the eyes of the brands that spend most on TV ads.


Facebook looked to Video on Instagram data and learnings when designing their video ad product. They saw that –

  1. It was technically unrealistic to auto-play both the audio and video in the Facebook feed and maintain acceptable performance
  2. Users got annoyed with audio auto-play.

Today is an incremental step in a much longer path to migrating TV ad dollars to the web. Significant barriers still exist.

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