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Is Facebook a TV Alternative for Advertisers? Not Yet.

Facebook's video ad business is still a mystery.

Jonathan G / Shutterstock

Facebook wants more TV ad money. Nothing new there: For years it has been fishing for TV advertisers by arguing that it has a TV-sized audience. It’s a message that was reiterated once again by COO Sheryl Sandberg during the company’s Q2 earnings call on Wednesday. But now that message includes a little twist: Facebook actually has people watching TV-like content.

A lot of it, in fact. The company reported last quarter that users generate four billion video views per day, up from one billion views back in the fall. Facebook doesn’t just have a massive audience, it has a massive audience hungry for video content.

Sandberg argued on Wednesday that Facebook offers an alternative for smaller businesses and advertisers who may not be able to afford traditional TV ads.

“Over one million SMBs have posted a video on Facebook,” Sandberg said, referring to small-to-medium businesses. “Which is pretty amazing because I doubt one million SMBs have ever run what is a video or TV ad.” As she explained it to Re/code in an interview before the call, “We have the reach of any other mass media you could buy — the format of video, which marketers have loved for a long time, but also the best targeting out there.”

In other words: Why go to television when you can reach a similarly sized audience, with even better targeting, on Facebook?

The problem is that this pitch to advertisers is still just that — a pitch. There’s a perception that Facebook poses a serious threat to the television industry, but there’s no real proof this is actually happening. How effective are Facebook’s video ads compared to TV ads? We don’t know. How much video ad revenue is Facebook bringing in? The company doesn’t say.

Facebook’s video ad business is still small enough that it doesn’t break it out on the company earnings reports. As the tech cliché goes, “It’s still early days.”

“We are competing for consumer time and attention and we are also competing for marketing dollars,” Sandberg told Re/code. “The shift to mobile is very beneficial to Facebook. As people spend more time on mobile, they are spending more time on our products.”

That may bode well for the future, but it doesn’t appear Facebook is there just yet.

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