To Autoplay, Or Not To Autoplay?Amy Onorato 05.04.2018
As video becomes a larger piece of the digital landscape, more and more content providers are faced with a dilemma: to autoplay or not?
For those unfamiliar with autoplay, it’s a feature that will automatically begin streaming your video as soon as a user visits your website. This approach is in contrast to click-and-play, where a video will only start streaming if/when a user chooses to hit the play button.
To figure out which method is best for you and your customers, let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of autoplay videos:
PRO: The Element of Surprise
Between reading books, listening to the radio and watching television, we’re used to our media beginning when we say so. So whether that means flipping a page, turning a dial or clicking a remote, it’s a process that we’re conditioned to believe we control.
Autoplay flips that premise on its head by starting up content just as soon as we arrive. Although it can indeed be surprising for a video to automatically begin, it’s not as if the content is completely unrelated to the page. In fact, it’s actually embedded to supplement. So, in a sense, it’s almost like opening a jack-in-a-box. Yes, at some point, something unexpected does pop out, but by cranking that lever (or by visiting that website), you’re already looking for whatever waits inside.
CON: Not Everyone Likes Surprises
To some, that surprise can feel more like a nuisance. Considering that we are used to starting and stopping media as we see fit, the idea of content — even content we might actually be looking for — bursting forth without our consent can be annoying. It robs us of the autonomy to pick and choose as we see fit. And if we are working in one of today’s open office arrangements, the sudden blare of sound from an autoplay video can be downright embarrassing.
Yes, autoplay can indeed feel like a jack-in-the-box. But is that a good thing? Maybe there’s a reason that we stopped playing with those things when we were kids.
PRO: A New Revenue Stream For Advertisers
Even before the influx of video, websites were more than just placid places of digital real estate. Flash animation and motion graphics are familiar features. Automatic video can be viewed as the next phase of this eye-grabbing evolution.
According to Digiday, Facebook initially propelled the use of autoplay video into the spotlight back in 2013. The trend was quickly adopted by other social media platforms and publishers. They capitalized on the potential for creating additional revenue streams from autoplay ads attached to their videos. Video is now one of the most popular content mediums online. An estimated 80 percent of internet traffic projected to be attributed to video by 2020.
This has been a boon for video ad revenue. Statista reports a steady increase in video ad revenue (overall) from $1.69 billion in 2015, to an estimated $2.89 billion estimated for 2018.
CON: But Are Autoplay Video Ads The New “Pop-Up?”
Autoplay video does feel like an evolution, but maybe the better comparison is to pop-up ads. You know, those jarring, unwanted often-streaming video clips that nobody ever asked to see. Sound familiar? Research shows autoplay video has a correlation to the rising use of adblockers. PageFair’s 2017 Adblock Report found that “interruptive ad formats” were one of the leading motivations for adblock use.
In 2017, Facebook rolled a new feature that automatically played video with sound as a user scrolled through their News Feed. Previously, they were only silent. The use of sound in autoplay received some backlash from users, and a swath of articles teaching people how to turn the “annoying” new feature off.
PRO: An Easier Experience
One benefit to autoplay is that it saves you the trouble of clicking to start a video. Instead of navigating around, you can just sit back, relax and consume content right as you come across it.
Often, the specified reason you go to a page is to see a video. YouTube pages are autoplay, but nobody complains because video is why they came in the first place.
CON: Easier Isn’t Always Better
Just because something is easier, that doesn’t mean it’s advantageous. In the case of something that’s already rather easy, perhaps it’s best to accept whatever degree of difficulty click-and-play presents.
Finding A Compromise
Now, content distributors are recognizing the pain points, and some are working to improve the user experience. Google will update their Chrome browser to prevent video autoplay (and video autoplay ads) with sound, unless the user has previously expressed interest in the video (i.e., they’ve watched it before, or the video lives on a website added to their mobile home screen). Videos without sound will continue to play automatically, without the viewer having to click “play.”
This approach still achieves a good deal of what automatic play aims to accomplish. It’s catchy, it’s sophisticated and it can potentially hook you in. But by muting the noise, it’s significantly less jarring. Providing captions for videos can also help reach new audiences. With captions, viewers can still enjoy videos without relying on solely on sound to understand what’s going on.
Maybe that’s the answer. Or at least a step in the right direction?