SAN FRANCISCO -- Coming soon to Facebook: A new feature to upload and watch video clips.
Facebook is testing a new tool that will automatically play video clips without sound in the News Feed. A user will have to tap or click on the video to make it play with sound in full screen, or otherwise can just scroll past the video.
Facebook called it a "limited" test and would not say how many users would take part in it.
The widely anticipated move underscores how crucial video has become to companies such as Facebook, which is seeking ways to keep its nearly 1.2 billion users entertained and glued to the service, particularly on mobile devices.
Video is already one of the top draws on Facebook. Research firm ComScore says Facebook was the third-biggest U.S. online video site in August, with 62.1 million unique viewers watching 801.1 million videos in the U.S. alone.
(As popular as video is on Facebook, the social network has always played second fiddle to Google's websites, including popular video-sharing service YouTube. Facebook was knocked out of second place in August when AOL registered a big audience jump, ComScore analyst Andrew Lipsman said.)
In offering a more immersive experience than still images and a bit of text, video is also shaping up to be the most promising new areas of potential revenue for Facebook.
Video is a fast-growing segment of online advertising that is expected to top $4 billion this year, according to research firm EMarketer Inc.
YouTube has already shown just how lucrative video can be, generating billions of dollars each year in advertising.
The new Facebook tool is a first step toward the launch of video ads. Facebook plans to launch the ads as early as this fall, charging between $1 million and $2.5 million a day for the ads depending on the size of the audience an advertiser is trying to reach.
Facebook is taking an even more cautious approach to the rollout than it normally does. It's testing the video tool with a small number of U.S. users, first on mobile devices, then on desktop computers. (At first it will just be Android users, but the test will soon spread to iOS, too.)
The test will include videos that users upload and also videos from verified pages for celebrities, athletes, musicians and bands, among others, but not videos from brand pages such as ESPN or "Modern Family," for example.
"Over time, we'll continue to explore how to bring this to marketers in the future," said Kelly Mayes, Facebook's product manager for video.
Facebook will collect feedback from users before rolling out the tool more broadly. There is no timetable for that rollout, the company said.
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