There are many reasons for this significant growth. But below the surface, the practice of “auto-play” is driving it.
Auto-play is when video content, most often starting with a pre-roll ad, starts playing immediately once a site visitor lands on a Web page. Whether it’s publishing industry leaders like Youtube and Yahoo or niche sites like money.com, so many publishers employ this practice.
With auto-play, advertisers win because their ads automatically start playing and must be watched if the user decides to engage with the video content.
The publisher wins because advertisers generally pay based on the number of times their video ads are shown. So auto-play gets the publisher auto-paid.
However, it's site visitors who are the biggest winners, because they don’t have to exert any effort to click a play button. And if you buy this last line, I have a bridge to sell you.
Online video advertising right now is fool’s gold, but those buying and selling it don’t seem to care. The only one objecting to this practice, ironically, are site visitors — who will literally do anything they can to avoid watching the actual video ad.
When users visit a Web page to read an article and are met with an auto-play video instead, they race to click the pause button a few seconds after their ears and eyes have been violated. Alternatively, site visitors will slam their mute button and file away another feeling of disgust for the Web site that forced them to do that.
Site visitors who are expecting video content but are put off when the video starts playing without them hitting “play,” avoid pre-roll ads with a combination of hitting the mute button and then scrolling down, or visiting another site until the ad is done playing.
Mobile users likely react the way my 24-year-old nephew Christopher did this past weekend. He and my niece Lilly wanted to watch that video of a three-year-old kid who calls his mother by her first name of Linda, and makes an award-winning case for why he deserves a cupcake.
When they landed on Youtube, a pre-roll ad began to play immediately, and my nephew immediately turned his cell phone over on the table. “We’re not watching a stupid ad,” he explained to his younger cousin.
In all these examples of user ad avoidance, pre-roll ads began to play, thus contributing to the numbers the online video industry refers to when touting their growth. Auto-play is the HGH of video advertising, pumping up numbers to a level that make no sense — and yet we continue to applaud the results the way fans used to applaud Barry Bonds after he hit another home run into San Francisco Bay.
The big swing and miss here by the entire online video industry is that they are sitting on a gold mine if they would just cut the cord of this bullshit tactic. Let’s be honest: This practice treats the site visitor like garbage, leading publishers and buyers into endless debates over what constitutes a view, because the user has not directly chosen to view anything.
If all video content were user-initiated, these debates would end, site visitors would have more trust in the sites they visit, and the value of video ads would greatly increase. Then online video advertising could truly take a big bite out of television ad budgets.
Those in the online video space will argue that auto-play is no different from TV commercials that “automatically play” while watching a program. They’re right — but the television doesn’t automatically turn on when people walk by it.