Is it Ever Acceptable to Autoplay a Video on a Web Page?

  •    Wes is the founder of iPlayerHD, a business video platform. Weather permitting, he splits his time between Maine and Arizona.

Tell me what you think about this scenario: You click on a web page link or browse for a certain page and just as the page opens, a video starts to play. Out of the blue. Ambushing you. Surprising you with a mini heart attack.

Are you happy or unhappy about that video autoplaying?

If you're like most of us, you're not just unhappy. You're annoyed.

Web pages with videos that autoplay without warning or expectation ranks as one of my top pet peeves on the web. One would think that after more than a decade of video on the web, all site owners would have ended a practice that was popular only in the early years of web video. But many have not.

I'd provide some examples, but you’ve all seen them, you’ve been there, you know they exist, there’s no need to annoy you.

What is an autoplay video and is it ever acceptable?

Before we go further, let me make clear that the basic premise here is that a video autoplays without the consent of a site visitor. In fact, let's go with your site visitor since providing you with useful information that advances your cause is my objective.

And let's define your website as a collection of pages designed to promote your enterprise, be it profit or not. You have a landing page, which is basically any page, including your home page, that is promoted through paid advertising or social interaction or it simply resides on the web to be found. It has a specific goal, perhaps to build your brand or motivate the visitor to take some action.

So, is it ever acceptable to autoplay a video on your web pages without the consent or expectation of the person visiting your site?

​I'll go with never acceptable.

So, who is doing it and why?

There are sites where it is acceptable (or at least expected) for videos to autoplay. For example, news sites covering world and local events as well as professional sports are common examples. Videos typically begin with ads that are followed by news stories usually related to the headline on the page. I find those autoplay videos annoying but the sites and the information I seek are free. And if its free, its for me.

But they can be very clever. Stop the video, scroll down the page and another player appears, perhaps off to one side with the video autoplaying again. Like I said, they need the ad revenue.

These sites can do it because they have news information and you want it. You want it enough that you'll tolerate the videos.

I'm not suggesting that I never watch news site videos. In fact, I watch many news videos across about a dozen sites so I get a broad view of the issues that matter to me. But I want to control the flow of information and that includes when to watch a video or when I only want to read the associated story.

In fairness, there is typically an option to subscribe to these sites, which would then allow me to turn off auto-play. But who has time to sign up for every site and then remain logged in all of the time? Not me. And probably not you.

Is your audio set to off by default like mine?

By the way, the volume on my machine is always set to mute exactly because of the potential for auto-play videos. I'd rather not do that. If your site is one of the culprits, read on!

Facebook auto plays sponsored (ads) videos and any video you upload to them. They do not autoplay a video shared to your wall from another site. And quite smartly, Facebook mutes all autoplay videos.

There's a lesson there: If you must autoplay a video, mute it. Give your site visitor every ounce of respect you can muster.

By the way, autoplay on mobile is generally disabled.

Fortunately, auto-play generally does not apply to mobile devices. We are often asked about this at iPlayerHD as users wonder why their videos set to auto play fail to do so on mobile. The reason is driven, in part, by the network provider’s need to minimize unnecessary bandwidth usage.

And, frankly, until we all have unlimited data at a fair price (don't hold your breath), why would any of us want autoplay on mobile? Video can quickly eat up your plan.

Doing more harm than good.

When I am searching the web for a product or I click on an interesting ad, unless I am absolutely married to the thing, if a video autoplays when I arrive on the landing page, there's an excellent chance I'm gone. Yep. It so bothers me that I'll move on. And I'd bet a few dollars I'm not alone.

Probably the best read I have seen on the use of video as a sales tool on landing pages and why those videos should never auto play is Nicole Dieker's We Hate Autoplay Too: 3 Experts on Landing Page Video Best Practices. In her post she asks Maneesh Garg, Digital Marketing Manager at video production company Broadcast2World about the auto play issue. His reply:

“I believe that anything which is pushed on users irritates them and makes them suspicious about your product or service.”

She also asked Sarah Nochimowski, Marketing Manager at ecommerce video platform Treepodia the same question. Her reply:

"This can be perceived as aggressive to the user."

Well said.

I've spent the better part of the last fourteen years working with customers delivering their messages, in part, through the use of web video. I've witnessed the dawn of web video and played an active role in its evolution ever since. I suppose that makes me an expert on the subject - though there is much left to learn. And it is true that the story is still being written. However, in our current web culture, it’s a safe bet that videos should rarely, if ever, autoplay on landing pages designed to motivate the visitor to take some action, be it to sign up for a trial account or make a direct purchase.

It's difficult enough to build trust. Don't kill it with a badly designed page.