With Twitter following in Facebook’s wake with its recent launch of autoplaying video, autoplay has taken the crown as online media’s hot new fad. Autoplay brings video content and ads directly to your newsfeeds – whether you like it or not, resulting in significantly more impressions and, correspondingly, increased ad revenue. It’s easy to see why it’s becoming so popular with publishers and platforms, especially at a time when adblocking software is becoming widely adopted.
But, autoplay may be better in theory than in practice.
Flawed implementations of autoplay have the potential to permanently damage the online video industry. We’re already seeing the consumer backlash: A quick Google search will deliver hundreds of Q&A forums with users begging for instructions on how to disable the feature. And, as anyone who has encountered the hundredth video of Kate Upton advertising a mobile game can attest, an explosion of video advertising is creating consumer fatigue with video ads in general, let alone autoplays.
Yet it’s not just consumers who are suffering. Advertisers are experiencing negative effects from autoplay, even if they aren’t aware of it. How valuable is an impression from an angry, likely irrelevant consumer? And how effective is an ad when a viewer sees it for a scant amount of time in their newsfeed or gets used to tuning out completely because there are so many autoplaying ads? Even with Twitter’s “five second rule,” can an impression in a medium specifically designed to get consumers from one piece of content to the next with maximum efficiency truly be considered valuable?
Advertisers must question the cost of video advertising in an environment where they may be charged for inventory a viewer barely saw and did not choose to engage with.
I fear we’re nearing a tipping point at which consumer and advertiser perception of online video could be permanently damaged, and our ability to realize the full potential of online video offers will be lost. This fatigue and discontent could easily expand to original video content, as well as the publisher platforms themselves, creating a major problem. To understand the risk, think of the tragedy of the banner ad, which after growing to ubiquity has been made nearly extinct by ad-blocking software.
Ad-blocking software is only growing more popular — and more sophisticated. Where once the software was open-source and used only by the tech-savvy, now the biggest technology companies are listening to customer feedback and releasing tools of their own. Apple’s new iOS 9 ad-blocking APIs have generated mainstream attention and controversy, while a recent Chrome update automatically disables non-central Flash elements, which overwhelmingly tend to be ads.
If autoplay continues to operate as it does today, consumers may employ similar tools to remove video ads, decimating not only advertising, but online video as a whole.
Autoplay isn’t completely terrible, of course. Used strategically, this feature could be beneficial to consumers, advertisers, and publishers alike. That said, autoplay is shortsighted; the publishers and social networks embracing the technology are gaining more impressions in the short-term without thinking about long-term backlash. The online video industry needs to take a step back and acknowledge that the race to run as many pre-rolls as possible isn’t the right strategy. The key to success in online video is balance – publishers and social networks need to stop looking for a Band-Aid for their advertising woes and find creative ways to drive real engagement.
While I have my reservations about this new video trend, there are ways for brands and publishers to more strategically use this new technology — chiefly through ad targeting. Specific targeting based on the audience’s location, interests, and previously viewed content and an increase ad yield with programmatic targeting will help make autoplay more beneficial to brands. While this strategy doesn’t fully negate the issues outlined above, it does help better ensure that the content is relevant for the audience, less likely to be tuned out, and is more likely to encourage engagement.
Online video is an industry that trades on trust. Consumers trust that publishers are going to deliver content that’s interesting and relevant, advertisers trust that publishers are charging them for ads that are being seen by real consumers, and publishers trust that technology companies like us are delivering their video content to the consumer in the best form possible. Breaking this trust means breaking the fruitful cycle that has brought online video to its current level of success. While autoplay is likely here to stay, it’s important that we all prioritize trust and respect over pre-roll ad views and work harder to find creative solutions to our challenges instead of quick fixes that may hurt us overall.
Jeroen Wijering is founder of JW Player.