Facebook is testing a new tool designed to help media companies sell video advertising on their own websites, apps and other digital properties in a more automated fashion, the company said Tuesday.
The new ad offering, called Audience Direct, will invite publishers to list video ad inventory for sale from across their properties, and to specify pricing.
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Marketers will then have the ability to log on to the system and to purchase ad space from specific publishers on a self-service basis, potentially streamlining the buying and selling process for both parties.
Crucially, marketers can also specify which types of users they wish to display ads to, based on Facebook's mountain of user data. For example, an advertiser might purchase video ads on a specific TV network's website or app, but targeted only to women in a specific city.
Video publishers including Hearst, A+E Networks and Scripps Networks Interactive are currently trialing the system with their advertising clients, according to Facebook. It is unclear how much ad inventory they will make available.
Business terms are still evolving, but it is likely Facebook will take a cut of revenue from the transactions it helps facilitate. That could be a welcome revenue stream for the social network as it begins to reach capacity in the number of ads it can squeeze into users' news feeds.
The move comes as Facebook is intensifying its push into video. Separately, the company is working to license TV-like original programming and sports rights, to be featured in a video tab separate from users' feeds. Facebook is also beginning to introduce mid-roll advertising within videos across its platform.
Combined, all those efforts could help the company win a bigger slice of a U.S. digital video ad market that touched $10 billion last year, according to eMarketer.
Facebook believes its new tool can streamline and modernize the labor-intensive ad-buying process. Currently, ad sellers and buyers often negotiate and place orders in a more manual fashion, including via phone, email and even fax machine.
"We've heard from video publishers that today their existing business is mainly direct-sold," said Facebook's vice president of publisher solutions, Brian Boland. "That business has some opportunities and challenges as it moves to digital."
Various other advertising technology companies already provide similar sales tools for publishers, which are often referred to as "programmatic direct" or "automated guaranteed" technologies.
But Facebook is betting that the addition of its powerful targeting and tracking capabilities will make its offering more attractive for marketers, and potentially more lucrative and efficient for publishers.
Mr. Boland said the Audience Direct tool will function separately from Facebook's existing Audience Network, a product that allows marketers to target specific groups of users across a wide range of websites and properties.
"If you're an advertiser, you can buy from the Audience Network and reach audiences irrespective of the content they're on. But some marketers do want to buy specific publishers because context is important to them," Mr. Boland said.
Marketers have been especially concerned lately about their online ads showing up alongside objectionable content. But Mr. Boland said Audience Direct isn't specifically designed to help alleviate those worries. Rather, it was designed to cater to the needs of publishers looking for technology to aid their sales process, he said.
Write to Jack Marshall at Jack.Marshall@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
May 23, 2017 11:14 ET (15:14 GMT)