Like it or not, autoplay video won

Grouse all you want, autoplay video isn’t going away. In fact, it will only become more ubiquitous.

Autoplay video, from a consumer perspective, can be unsettling, annoying, even the most hated digital ad tactic. Be that as it may, a confluence of factors, from the buoyancy of the video ad market to publisher desperation to influence of Facebook, have combined to make autoplay video a staple of the Web, even as gurus and pundits inveigh against “intrusive” ad tactics.

“I honestly would’ve said a year ago autoplay video is the enemy that plagues premium video advertisers,” said Jenny Schauer, associate media director at digital marketing agency Digitas. “Today, however, I think there’s a different story, and Facebook is largely at the root of it. While autoplay in general is still not the most premium or impactful video ad format, if done well it can amplify a video campaign at a scale that user-initiated video could never compete with.”

Facebook introduced autoplaying videos in for both desktop and mobile users in December 2013, injecting some motion into the news feed. Now all native Facebook videos (including video ad products) autoplay by default in the U.S., though the audio remains off unless users actively turn it on.

Paired with changes to the Facebook algorithm, which more readily surfaces native Facebook video in the news feed, autoplay has prompted a massive increase in Facebook video views. The platform serves more than 3 billion video views per day (meaning at least three seconds of viewership), according to the company. And when viewers see more video, they are more inclined to upload their own videos directly to the site, said a Facebook spokesperson. The number of video posts per person on Facebook jumped 75 percent last year, and 94 percent in the U.S. specifically, according to the rep.

Now Facebook is testing a continuous autoplay feature, serving up another video after the first one finishes. YouTube also started playing with this functionality late last year, serving up a new pre-roll ad before the next video in the series starts. Twitter is testing a general autoplay feature for some iOS users. Instagram and Vine have embraced autoplay. It’s becoming ubiquitous in the platform world.

“I’m surprised there hasn’t been more of a backlash,” said Paul Verna, senior analyst at eMarketer, a media research firm. “There have certainly been some bloggers and commenters who have railed against the default use of autoplay, but autoplay seems to be winning.”

Publishers formerly wary of autoplay have since rolled out that functionality, eager to serve more video to their visitors. Bloomberg Media is a big proponent of autoplay on desktop, pairing relevant videos with articles and enabling autoplay (without sound) when the video “has something incredibly powerful to communicate,” said Paul Marcum, head of digital video at Bloomberg.

Given Bloomberg’s editorial discretion to disable autoplay, it only accounts for a small portion of its overall video viewership, according to Marcum. But it plays a significant role in Bloomberg Media’s digital revenue stream, because Bloomberg video attracts $75 CPMs, according to Marcum.

“I know that autoplay is potentially controversial, but it really shouldn’t be,” said Marcum. For Bloomberg, “it is about finding a blend of the content formats that works to tell a complete story. The task ahead for news publishers is figuring out how to do that well. We’re obviously seeing the platforms do it well for their use case.”

Ziff Davis-owned IGN is innovating on that front. For content pages that include both text and video, the games and entertainment publisher offer multiple ways to navigate to each story on its desktop site. For this “Rewind Theater” story, which highlights secrets from the new “Fantastic Four” trailer, visitors can click “watch” or “read” on the homepage. The “watch” URL will autoplay the video, while the “read” URL will not. The generic URL that goes out through social channels falls somewhere in-between. When visitors navigate to the page, they’ll see a 10-second countdown clock begin to tick down. If they scroll away from the counter or hover over it with their cursor, the timer will stop and the video won’t autoplay.

IGN autoplay countdown

“Advertisers really like that feature,” said Peer Schneider, general manager at IGN. “We know the audience is watching, because we don’t let them watch when they scroll down.”

That nifty implementation of autoplay gives IGN leverage to negotiate higher CPMs, according to Schneider. And that feature, alongside other major platforms and publishers embracing autoplay, is giving rise to a smarter, quieter autoplay.

“On TV, when one program ends, another starts, and users accept that experience,” said Schneider. “The Internet started as a newspaper, but now it’s turning into TV.”

Main image courtesy of Psycho