Posted On 13 Jan 2017
Marama Carmichael

The case against auto-play video:

The case against having videos auto-play on your sites is pretty simple: it’s inconsiderate.

First, there’s the jarring experience of suddenly having audio and moving images appear unexpectedly. You also have the possible embarrassment if you are in public with the volume up too loud, on a “quiet carriage” OR at work messing around on Social media.

There are other technical things too, like bandwidth caps, battery life and mobile data limits.

The content itself can be an issue as well (especially if as the site owner you don’t have full control over the content). One extreme example is when graphic news footage is automatically shown (NB link does NOT have anything graphic in it).

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a market for it though, and it’s a pretty big one. All sorts of major companies are now pushing auto-playing videos on their visitors as part of their basic web design; especially in America. For example:

You’ll get a forced highlight package video if you want to read a sports recap on ESPN, ABC (along with countless local news sites) forces you to watch their broadcast clips when you click on what looks like a traditional text story link. Social media services like Facebook and Twitter set auto-play to “on” by default.

Australian news sites tend to be less intrusive with both traditional news sites like the Sydney Morning herald and digital only sites like  making it really clear before you click on a link that there is a video waiting on the other side.

The case for auto-play video:

The case for auto-playing video is equally simple: it drives up views and makes money on the aggregate.
Companies do a risk-reward analysis of customer irritation vs. how much extra revenue or engagement they’ll see, and decide it’s worth annoying some percentage of their user base to make more off the rest.

A consumer study conducted by Ask Your Target Market in 2014 found that though 53% of respondents disliked auto-playing videos and only 15% felt positive toward them, only 17% actually bother to change their settings to stop the auto-play. As with television advertising, it seems users will tend to at least sit through it even if they don’t like it and not abandon the site entirely.

My own totally non-scientific research says that silent video is “ok” for the most part and the REAL issue is the sound associated with the video.

When Is Auto-Playing Video Most Appropriate?

Auto-playing video is always a gamble, especially when it comes to advertising. It’s usually more well-received under the following conditions:

  • When users are browsing more indiscriminately for new things or novelties.  (i.e. idly browsing Facebook or Twitter feed for general updates). If they are doing a targeted search for a specific piece of content – they want to find what they are looking for.
  • When users have some expectation that it’s part of the site in advance (like a news site)

Additionally, it is crucial for such videos to not automatically play with audio. Users will generally not disengage from a site just because of an unexpected video. However, an internal Facebook study found that a full 80% of users became hostile to both the advertiser and the platform when videos automatically played sound as well. Not surprising, especially when you think about all the people on Facebook at the office…

Best Practices For Auto-Playing Videos

  • Don’t chain videos together if they are not initiated by the user. People have largely been moving to internet-based program viewing from television specifically because they don’t like long strings of ads they don’t have control over.
  • Ensure that the video is prominent and easily visible in the immediate screen, and is relevant to the page content. Irrelevant videos that are initially hidden out of sight very quickly create resentment in users and a negative impression of both the page and the advertised brand.
  • Employ adaptive design to recognise when users are on a mobile device and not auto-play the video then. This is being considerate of their bandwidth and battery concerns. Simply screening for laptops and desktops isn’t foolproof though. Don’t forget people often use mobile WiFi hotspots or phone tethers to get online.
  • If an article has accompanying auto-playing video, make that clear to the user before they click on the link. For example with a small video icon next to it or as the SMH have a screen shot of the video and a BIG play button.
  • Provide easily visible “play” and “pause” buttons. Also enable users to stop the video / ad by pressing the ESC key.
  • If you are using video in your marketing on sites that you know auto-play (like Facebook and Twitter), make sure that it makes sense with and without sound. Some people will watch entire videos without the sound (remember those people who should be working?) . So you want yours to make sense both ways.
Sydney Morning Herald website with clear video play

SMH homepage – see the Avalanche video on the right? Clicking that goes to a page that auto-plays, but you know what to expect.

So what’s the answer; to Auto-play or not Auto-play?

Personally I usually recommend to err on the side of user experience. So unless you run a news or video site or have some other REALLY good reason to auto-play video I say leave the choice in your visitors control.

Do you have more questions about using video on your site, or how to grow your business by bringing in more search traffic? eSense Web Design builds professional, SEO-optimised sites as well as advising on inbound marketing and branding efforts. Contact us with any questions or to learn more about our services.

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