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Facebook plots mid-video ads in bid to take on YouTube

Facebook is reportedly preparing to test "mid-roll" advertising spots in non-live videos, in a move that would finally allowing video publishers to make serious revenue — if potentially at the expense of turning off some viewers.

Ads will be allowed after the 20-second mark in a clip, and only in videos lasting 90 seconds or more, according to Re/code sources. Facebook is expected to give publishers 55 percent of revenue, identical to the split offered by Google's YouTube.

The company began testing mid-roll ads in live streams last year, but streaming's ephemeral nature likely makes them less profitable, especially since going live can be impractical for many content makers.

Video has become a staple of Facebook's News Feed, often featuring material edited with the social network in mind. Ad revenue has been slight to non-existent for many publishers though, as both pre- and mid-roll commercials have been banned. For the foreseeable future, pre-roll spots will still be off the table.

Publishers like BuzzFeed have been allowed to make videos sponsored by advertisers, but that can also be impractical — particularly for outlets concerned about maintaining objectivity or creative freedom.

The time limits for mid-roll ads could mark a shift towards long-form video and away from simply racking up as many views as possible. At the moment Facebook logs a view after just three seconds, which poses a problem for advertisers and publishers alike, given that videos typically auto-play in the News Feed even if a person is just scrolling past.

A risk with the new ads is that people will turn to blockers avoid them on the Web, or simply go elsewhere to watch. The issue could become even more acute on devices like Apple's iPhone, since many people have capped cellular data plans that would be taxed even further with video advertising.