Thank You, Next
Thank You, Next

Auto-play video and the consequences of Facebook clutter

Hop in your DeLorean. We’re going back to … 2013. Netflix’s streaming service is two years old. “Twerk” and “selfie” were added to the dictionary and “What Does the Fox Say?” was a viral video – but Candy Crush wasn’t the only addictive thing added to the Facebook in 2013. This was the year that Facebook started using auto-play video. *Enter dramatic music and booming voice* “And the internet was never the same.”

Back to present day. You’re scrolling through your newsfeed. A video comes into your view (probably of a cat doing something ridiculous) and starts to play but with the sound defaulted to “off.” You didn’t ask for it to play, but there it is anyway, and you can’t stop watching it. Why? Because in the last six years, auto-play video has become an art form. It is one of the many tools in Facebook’s toolbox and one of the mechanisms Wired magazine cites as one of the key components of society’s “Internet Addiction.”

What does that mean for consumers, considering that 100 million hours of Facebook videos are watched daily? Namely that there are innumerable advertisers hungrier than ever to get a piece of the pie. They will come at you in many forms: Facebook Watch, Facebook Live, Facebook Stories or a video ad inserted into your news feed, suggested videos, etc. or even on Instagram or Instagram stories. And all of them will draw your eyes and your attention away from your friends’ kid and food pics.

At the very core the concept is simple: auto-play allows users to watch greater volumes of content. That helps advertisers make more money. In fact, because of this technology, Facebook video ad revenue could top $10 billion by 2020.

And now to make things even more interesting, Facebook has eliminated auto-play with sound.

Elimination of auto-play with audio has created a whole new playground for creative problem solvers/story tellers to work in, a subtitle rich, almost silent film vibe. Counting on the user to only catch a quick glimpse and definitely counting on them scrolling with the sound off. In fact, 85% of all videos on Facebook are viewed without sound because the user has spoken. No one likes an interruptive ad experience.

Evading the challenge and never-ending hoops is futile, especially in light of the fact that if you want to try to buck the system and reach for user-initiated video, outside of Facebook, ad rates are two to three times higher than auto-play video, and the fill rate is about twice as high.

Breaking through using video ad units is tough for brands. How to get and keep a user engaged in this environment can feel like jumping up and down, flailing your arms, stranded on a beach, without being able to use your voice.

Brands can use vertical format, dynamic movement, a shorter-length video and gifs but the truth of the matter is, newsfeeds and the like are, and will stay, a cluttered, desensitized and difficult environment to try to connect a user with a brand. Facebook knows that, which is why this platform and others like it have tried to get ahead of the curve by offering opportunities for those interested in longer-form video, like Facebook Watch, IGTV and Twitter broadcasts.

While still relatively new to the mix, advertisers are already foaming at the mouth for these platforms that still employ engagement tactics like auto-play and an endless feed but have much longer watch times and feel more natural and user-initiated. For example, Conde Nast SVP of digital programming was quoted by DigiDay discussing Facebook Watch: “If you get people into the Watch ecosystem and get them to watch episode after episode, there’s a whole new opportunity from a business perspective that you can’t replicate the News Feed.”

While the newsfeed-type ad unit won’t go away anytime soon because of sheer user volume and concerns about accessibility for all brands, these types of more “organic” video environments make it more important than ever to tell and own a compelling brand story that can outlast any environment and the hurdles it presents.

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