November 22, 2013 E3

Facebook Video Autoplay: Testing Continues As Brands Wait Their Turn

Over the last several weeks, you may have noticed something when using Facebook on your mobile device. As you scroll through your newsfeed, certain videos automatically begin to play. Facebook video autoplay was rolled out to a select subset of users late in Q3 of this year. It was met with anticipation from Facebook’s advertising customers, and skepticism from many users.

This testing phase puts Facebook one step closer to autoplay for advertisers, a move that has many brands excited. The opportunity to have an ad seen by Super-Bowl sized audiences will likely change the face of video advertising – and the landscape of Facebook – forever.

But the rollout of Facebook video autoplay for ads has been delayed yet again. The blogosphere was abuzz last December when Facebook hinted that video autoplay for advertisers would be available in April 2013. That date came and went, until the test was announced in September.

All Things Discovered was one of the first outlets to break the news that advertisers will have to wait a little while longer to take advantage of this feature, stating, “Facebook has been advising some advertiser clients not to expect a rollout of the much-awaited auto-play video ad product before 2014. The ad format was originally supposed to make its debut in the first half of this year, but that never happened, and its launch has been pushed back several times since then.”

“The main reason for the current delay? Facebook recognizes the risk of upsetting its user base with the ads, which are expected to play automatically (though audio will have to be turned on by the viewer), so it wants more time to evaluate how its users have interacted with similar noncommercial videos that it started to allow on its platform earlier this year.”

That explanation doesn’t make much sense on the surface. If advertisers are calling for this feature, and they pay Facebook’s bills, you’d think that the social media site would be jumping at the chance to get it going. A more likely explanation has to do with Facebook’s focus on mobile. Facebook derives more than 40 percent of its revenue from mobile – nothing to sneeze at. There are distinct delivery and usability issues to consider for mobile devices, and it’s likely that the social media giant wants to be sure there are no roadblocks to a seamless roll out.

Additionally, though this may not rank as high on Mark Zuckerberg’s list of priorities, are the users themselves. Videos can eat up a lot of data. Individuals on capped data plans might not appreciate automatic play. It’s possible Facebook is trying to come up with some way to please advertisers without alienating users.

Despite the setbacks of the last few months, video autoplay is still coming. Once the feature is available to all users, brands will have the opportunity to reach millions of people on a daily basis.

While the most recent delay may be unwelcome news for advertisers, video content creators can still get in on Facebook’s autoplay feature. Here’s how it works. Videos that are embedded in a newsfeed automatically play – without sound – as a user scrolls through the feed on a smartphone or tablet. Autoplay is only available for videos posted by individual users. Links that are shared from outside sources like Vimeo, YouTube, and Instagram do not automatically play.

What We’ve Learned About Facebook Video Autoplay So Far

We’ve had the chance to play around with autoplay a little bit, and so far so good. It’s far less intrusive than many people anticipated, and Facebook has indeed made a concerted ffort to control data usage. The feed is quite smooth as the video emerges while scrolling. It’s not herky-jerky like some video feeds can be on a mobile device.

When you scroll to reveal the video, it comes to life, albeit silently. There is little delay in load time, and the video continues to play seamlessly as it moves through the feed. Once the video begins its descent off-screen, it stops, cutting any extra data usage.

If you tap the video while it is in autoplay mode, it expands to full screen and the sound is enabled, so long as the sound is enabled on your device. To go back to your feed, all you have to do is tap out of the video. The entire process is very easy to navigate and video playback quality doesn’t seem to be affected by tapping in or out.

Autoplay overcomes an ever-so-slight but very real barrier to watching videos on Facebook. Clicking on a video and waiting for it to load can influence views and engagement. Autoplay allows videos to get more views and, in turn, more comments and more likes. This increased interaction will likely influence more people to share video content on Facebook, increasing the amount of time people spend on their own feeds watching videos, and thus exposing more people to Facebook ads. Autoplay could be a win-win-win situation.

What Does This Mean For Content Creators?

Part of the holdup in the ad rollout is the content itself. In order to alienate the least amount of users, Facebook is encouraging brands to create content for newsfeeds rather than repurposing TV or YouTube-style advertisements. For forward-thinking brands who already take advantage of Vine and Instagram video, this won’t be a problem. Currently, Facebook video autoplay is only for content uploaded to Facebook by users to their profile or verified page, or by bands and musicians.

If you’re thinking about getting in on the action when it finally arrives, you’ll have to understand social video. Social video isn’t the same as traditional video advertising. Generating branded content for social networks means connecting with users. Telling a story. Creating content that in no way feels like an advertisement. And it will have to resonate with viewers with no sound. Autoplay is currently silent, and likely to stay that way. So if you want to hook users, you’ve got to have a visually interesting piece of content that warrants a second view with sound.

It will be interesting to see the final version Facebook video autoplay once it’s open to advertisers. When they finally do open the doors, it will have a huge impact on the way we produce and the way we consume video ads. If Facebook is able to strike the right balance between pleasing advertisers and keeping users happy, they could capture large portions of TV ad spend without users feeling that commercials are being forced on them.

Do you think Facebook will be able to please both advertisers and users? Have you been exposed to Facebook video autoplay? If so, what do you think of it? Will this be a great move for content creators or a fiasco for Facebook?

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