Commentary

The Death Of Auto-Play

Last week, Jay-Z released his 11th album, "The Blueprint 3."  The first single off the album was called D.O.A: "Death of Auto-Tune." The rock-influenced track takes to task the Auto-Tune audio processing technology that many have criticized as overused in the genre.  In the song lyrics, Jay calls for an end to the trend of copy-cat songs and a return to quality and originality.

Why am I talking about a rap song in the Video Insider?  Right now, I think I'm feeling a little like Jay-Z.  We have a trend in online media that needs to be brought to task, discussed and potentially "killed" -- that trend being auto-play video.  So at the risk of not being "politically correct" (check the song lyrics), let's talk about why we should think about pronouncing auto-play D.O.A.

Your users hate it.  One of the most fascinating things about Twitter is that it gives you the ability to take the pulse of a wide variety of people on any topic.  Do a search for "auto-play video" some time and read some of the comments.  There are few things that irk a site visitor more than an unannounced blast of video.  We've all been there: quietly working, clicking on a link, and then BAM! A sonic boom, music or content that knocks you out of your chair.  Not fun.  It would be interesting to see a study of "bounce" (abandonment) rates on pages that have auto-play versus ones that do not.

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It's not real pre-roll.  This is one thing that has been discussed in the Insider before.  Some sites not only have a video on a non-dedicated page, but they auto-play pre-roll as well when the page comes up.  Pre-roll works when it is a user who  (lean-forward-like) elects to commit his time to watch video and devotes his attention to the player.  Serving an ad to a user who reaches a page to browse or read an article is not nearly as valuable to the advertiser.  Advertisers should ask if their pre-roll will launch on a dedicated player and implement serving trackers to measure ad completions as a further precaution against this, if a site runs auto-play on pages.

It increases the cost of running your site.  No matter what the format, running video or audio files every time a user pulls up the site increases the cost to run the business exponentially.  That is rumored to be the reason why MySpace.com, the poster child for auto-play everything, pulled the plug on auto-play audio last month.  The economics didn't add up.

Those are the more prominent reasons why many think auto-play should be pronounced D.O.A.   What does the Video Insider readership think?  Is it time to give auto-play a moment of silence, or are there valuable applications for it?  Let us know in the comments.

11 comments about "The Death Of Auto-Play".
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  1. Chase Norlin from AlphaBird, September 21, 2009 at 3:11 p.m.

    Eric, good article, overall I agree with many of your assessments.

    We do online video syndication for a living and quite familiar with what’s happening around autoplay here (previously I helped run distribution for ValueClick). I’d like to make sure both sides of the argument are clearly understood, because there’s alot of wrong assumptions out there and misinformation:

    Yes, click to play represents the ultimate form of video engagement (as user “intent” provides great value, much like web search). However, autoplay is not the horrible beast everyone thinks it is. Think about this: how do click-to-play video views get generated? Primarily from a thumbnail with a bit of metadata. So, that user intent is purely a function of a user being engaged by a thumbnail image, that’s quite amazing huh? Autoplay, while sometimes annoying, actually gives the user the ability to quickly sample the content and see if they want to keep watching. This is just like channel surfing your TV where you watch 5 seconds of a Discovery Channel show and decide you like it and stay on the channel. So, autoplay potentially represents an improved ability to better represent the contents of any given video to users.

    I just spoke about this at the Goldman Sachs and Digiday Conferences in NY this week, and will be going back to ad:tech in November to provide even more detail.

    If you’d like to hear more just email me – chase@pixsy.com.

    Chase Norlin
    CEO, Pixsy Corp.
    chase@pixsy.com

  2. Josh Mchugh from Attention Span Media, September 21, 2009 at 3:22 p.m.

    From a user-side perspective, there's a big difference between autoplay videos with audio (kill! kill!) and without audio (hmm, what are they saying in that lil video there?...).

    I'd say limit the number of active video files on a page to one at a time, but I've been lured to click more than once by professional-looking videos with the audio off.

  3. Raul Keally from TripIt, September 21, 2009 at 3:26 p.m.

    Agree 100% with this article. Auto-play is a bad user experience and sites that decide to use auto-play are most likely trying to drive their imps and sales up on front door video. ESPN's front door auto-play video is annoying and is one reason I avoid the front door when I can. Ultimately, it's about your user experience.

  4. J Stein from XXXX, September 21, 2009 at 3:40 p.m.

    Hi, to further clarify, "click to play" is how You Tube works when requesting one of their videos. This is okay in terms of user experience. Auto play, like MySpace, is bad, bad, bad.

  5. Daryle Lockhart from Global Soul Media, September 21, 2009 at 3:59 p.m.

    Great article, and Chase's response was also important.

    I think what a lot of people are going to say here is that it's not the video so much as it is the auto-start of the sound that users can't stand.

  6. Josh Kaner from Undertone Networks, September 21, 2009 at 5:02 p.m.

    EF- agreed. However Chase and Josh both bring up good points.

    Fusing their ideas together - how do you feel about audio-off auto-play?

    I'm not a content guy, but I would think that Chase's point about a thumbnail being the motivation to click through to the video (which I would imagine is incredibly hard to design for, or at least design well) coupled with the fact that bandwidth is cheap and getting cheaper every day; would lead an enterprising site operator to run some auto-play video WITH NO SOUND to entice the user to watch, click the speaker button, and get the sound on (or click through to the full size video).

    His point about thumbnail-as-enticement is true for me as well.

    That said, there is way to much auto-play video out there. But we as consumers of media are the ultimate deciders - if we don't like it that much, we can do a very important thing: stop visiting the site.

    Josh Kaner
    Manager, Business Development
    jkaner@undertone.com
    @bizdevelopment

  7. David Murdico from Supercool Creative, September 21, 2009 at 5:18 p.m.

    Eric, this is something we were wrestling with just yesterday on our site. We have our video set for autoplay for the very reason that we are trying to startle people albeit in a fun way. Could you and your readers take a look and you'll see what I mean? Perhaps we're making a big error in judgement... http://www.supercoolcreative.com

    Much appreciated!
    David

  8. Les Blatt from Freelance New Media Person, September 21, 2009 at 6:22 p.m.

    Very good article - and great comments, particularly dealing with the question of autoplay sound. To me, it's completely unacceptable; I don't want sound blaring at me, particularly when I visit a site during the work day. Nothing will drive me away faster.

  9. The digital Hobo from TheDigitalHobo.com, September 23, 2009 at 4:41 p.m.

    How can you discuss the issue of auto play video and not represent the advertiser's best interest? This auto-play problem is strictly a function of guaranteeing views / plays by sites and networks in search of increased revenue.

    Revision3's Jim Lauderback raised this issue months ago. Advertisers are paying for views / plays that aren't actually viewed by the user. Auto play w/ audio off is a tactic used to boost reported views and plays without a user ever seeing a video below the fold.

    As for the costs of running a site, I think thats also a weak argument. We're talking about ads and content. Those ads support the content. If you don't auto play the content, there is no cost incurred that needs to be offset by ad revenue.

    I dont even know where to begin on the "thumb nail" defense. If you click on a thumbnail to "sample" the video, thats not autoplay. Thats making up reasons for continuing to sell autoplay. Technology vendors can present recommended videos based on metadata (and behavioral / contextual targeting) without auto play. Taboola powers this exact function for CNN and other sites without blasting users with auto-initiated content that they didn't request.

    Lets not defend bad practices, no matter what the economic environment looks like.

  10. bao-khang luu, February 6, 2010 at 5:39 p.m.

    As a designer I love the idea of auto-play ads. They can be used cleverly (even those below the fold!) and be less intrusive with sound off. It's quite wonderful that users can sample the content.

    On the other hand auto-play removes control from users and with laggy non-reactive players this becomes a bigger problem. As a consumer I absolutely abhor them all.

  11. Mike Darnell from Treepodia, March 7, 2010 at 1:56 a.m.

    Hi Eric,

    Great post this, and one of the sources I mentioned in a post comparing Auto-play to Click-to-play for ecommerce ( http://blog.treepodia.com/2010/03/bug-my-eye-autoplay-vs-manual-on-ecommerce-videos ).

    I'm curious as to the reactions you're hearing from etailers in respect to this issue. Are people open to hearing that Auto-play is perhaps a less than ideal option?

    Cheers,
    Mike
    http://Treepodia.com - The ecommerce video platform

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