It’s no accident Facebook made Instagram’s new videos exactly as long as a television commercial

Coming soon to an Instagram feed near you: baby videos interspersed with ads for baby gear?
Coming soon to an Instagram feed near you: baby videos interspersed with ads for baby gear?
Image: AP/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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Facebook is going to get us all watching television ads again.

Instagram, the photo-sharing app that Facebook acquired last year, just added the ability to share videos, as well. It’s a copy of Vine, which is owned by chief rival Twitter. But whereas Vine lets users upload videos up to 6 seconds long, Instagram has opted for a maximum length of 15 seconds, and the difference is more significant than just 9 seconds.

Facebook was already planning to unveil video ads in the fall as the company—along with many of its rivals—chases the white whale of the digital advertising industry: television. For all the money flowing into the coffers of advertising-supported internet giants, it’s important to remember that nearly twice as much advertising money is spent on television as digital—a projected $196 billion in 2013 compared to $113.6 billion.

Video advertising is already a big part of advertisers’ digital spend, and is projected to be responsible for a significant proportion of the 13.4% growth in digital advertising between 2013 and 2014. Take YouTube: In the past six months, mobile ad revenue for the site tripled, to $350 million.

An Instagram with 15-second videos is right in the sweet spot for Facebook: It’s mobile, it’s video, and at that length, it means that advertisers can drop in their short television spots without even modifying them. This is an important but overlooked feature of online video ads, when compared to other kinds like banner and search: the ability to re-use the same creative on which advertisers have already spent so much money. That’s an extremely appealing advantage to ad buyers.

Previously, changes to Facebook’s terms of service suggested that ads could be coming to Instagram. None can claim to know the mind of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, but it certainly seems like he’s setting up Instagram, and by extension Facebook, to be a new home for one of the most lucrative forms of advertising.