Imagine this scenario: you’re scrolling through a webpage when all of a sudden, music starts blasting through your headphones. You search and search for the source of the unwelcome noise to no avail. You know that closing the tab would bring relief, but at the cost of sacrificing the content that you actually wanted to consume.
When you’re just about to give up, you finally find the root of the problem: an autoplay ad that’s cycling through its background music on an infinite loop. You locate the mute button (a struggle of its own), click down with anticipation, and, finally—silence.
Does this sound familiar?
Searches for “autoplay features” on Google lead to suggested queries like “how to turn off video autoplay features” or “can you disable autoplay on [insert platform here].” If the scenario above is all too familiar, you’re not alone. The Internet is opinionated about how autoplay works and how various platforms choose to address it. Unsurprisingly, most of the opinions are negative.
So, what do you need to know about video autoplay in 2020? We’re so glad you asked. Keep reading for a breakdown of video autoplay features as they currently exist, and how they’ll affect your marketing (especially video marketing) efforts this year.
Why Do Platforms Use Autoplay?
As a video production company, we’re no strangers to the benefits of video content. Those benefits are the source of the autoplay hysteria. Because video is so effective at grabbing attention, conveying complex messages, and remaining memorable in the minds of viewers, the hardest part is often getting people to watch the videos in the first place.
When viewers have no choice but to consume the video content that’s in front of them, the benefits of video as a medium are more readily available. Autoplay is really just a method of capitalizing on the benefits of video without relying on an audience taking action to click “play.”
Why Don’t People Like Autoplay?
Unfortunately for digital platforms and advertisers, this model fails to take into account the fact that people want a say in the content they engage with.
What autoplay delivers in terms of engagement benefits, it almost always loses in terms of viewer frustration and distrust. When digital consumers are bombarded with video content on the Internet, autoplay can feel like a betrayal. It ignores the consumer preferences that brands often promise to keep top-of-mind.
Additionally, autoplay can blow through data plans and phone batteries at breakneck speeds. When users don’t even want to be watching autoplay videos in the first place, these additional downsides are a slap in the face.
The takeaway? Autoplay exists because video is widely regarded as the most effective medium for delivering great content, but it takes away the consumer’s choice about what to watch. Most people agree that this is a net loss when it comes to the success of the concept. However, many platforms are still leaning into the idea that forced video content is better than ignored video content.
Is It Possible to Disable Autoplay?
The short answer? Yes. Now, for the long answer: the specifics depend on the platform and type of device you’re using. Almost all autoplay features are possible to disable if you’re willing to exert a little bit of effort, but some are more readily adjustable than others.
Here are some of the most common autoplay workarounds:
On Facebook: Facebook keeps this info updated on their help page, which you can find here. As of publication, the change can be made by going to “Settings,” “Video,” and then toggling the autoplay option.
On Twitter: As of publication, this setting can be changed in Twitter’s accessibility menu. From your account, go to “Settings,” “Accessibility,” “Autoplay,” and change the selection to “Never.”
On Instagram: Instagram’s setting for autoplay is a little more hidden. Rather than explicitly saying “autoplay,” the setting for Instagram is cloaked under data usage. Go to “Settings,” “Cellular Data Use,” and then toggle “Use Less Data” and your videos will stop autoplaying in the feed.
On Netflix: Netflix allows you to adjust two autoplay settings: one for trailers and other explore content autoplaying in the feed, and the other for autoplaying the next episode of a series. Both of the changes are explained here on their help page.
Miscellaneous: If these changes don’t solve autoplay for you, Google Chrome has a solution: by right-clicking on a tab, you have the option to mute the site’s content. This is a great option if you know which tab the noise is coming from (which you can tell from the little audio icon that comes up) but don’t want to go down the rabbit hole of searching for the offending content itself. There are also various plug-ins that have been developed to serve the same purpose. If you have a stubborn app or browser that won’t allow you to explicitly disable autoplay, you may be able to find a workaround with a plugin.
How Does Autoplay Affect Video Marketing?
Marketers should definitely consider autoplay when they’re creating video content. For one thing, it’s important to understand the platform where your content will be distributed and plan your content accordingly. If video will autoplay, you should pay special attention to the first few seconds.
It’s essential that those few seconds draw people in rather than irritating them, as you likely only have a moment or two before viewers decide to turn the content off. If video autoplays but without sound, captions will be important. Knowing these features for the platforms you choose for your video—and knowing them before you end up with the final video cut—is essential.
A second impact for video marketers is that autoplay creates an extra incentive to understand the behaviors of your audience. The autoplay debate has sparked many conversations about why it’s important to give some thought to the digital engagement patterns of your users.
This concept is why the autoplay trailers on Netflix’s home page are almost universally hated, while the autoplay feature that plays the next episode of the show you’re binging is widely praised. The difference between those two scenarios has a lot to do with consumer behavior and understanding how to deliver value for your audience.
The home page videos are disruptive and often irrelevant to the viewer’s content preferences, while the “play next episode” feature eliminates an action step for people who want to sit back and relax with their chosen show. One case makes life for the user more difficult, while the other makes it easier. This seems like common sense—and it is. The problem is that brands and advertisers have stopped going through the exercise of critically understanding consumer behavior.
Save your brand from this headache by learning from the autoplay experience. By knowing your audience and intimately understanding the needs of your users, you’ll be able to tailor your experiences to their needs.
What is the Future of Video Autoplay?
The bottom line is that video autoplay is likely not going anywhere, although platforms may introduce more control for users to pick and choose how they interact with the feature. Video autoplay drives too much revenue for advertisers for platforms to get rid of it entirely, so the challenge will be keeping advertisers and consumers happy simultaneously. We’ll have to keep an eye on the environment to understand how it continues to change over time.
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