To Autoplay Or Not To Autoplay

September 26, 2015

As video becomes a larger piece of the digital landscape, more and more content providers are faced with a dilemma: to autoplay or not?

For those unfamiliar with autoplay, it’s a feature that will automatically begin streaming your video as soon as a user visits your website. This approach being in contrast to a click-and-pay approach where a video will only start streaming if/when a user chooses to hit play. To figure out which method is best for you and your customers, let’s take a look a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages of each approach:


The Element Of Surprise: Between reading books, listening to the radio and watching television, we’re used to our media beginning when we say so. So whether that means flipping a page, turning a dial or clicking a remote, it’s a process that we’re conditioned to believe we control. Autoplay, however, flips that premise on its head a bit by starting up content just as soon as we arrive. And while there are certainly some cons to this sometimes-unexpected approach (which we’ll discuss below), there’s an inherent element of surprise to this that carries with it an air of mystery and excitement.

And Not Just Any Surprise…(AKA The Benefits Of Curated Content): Although it can indeed be surprising for a video to automatically begin, it’s not as if the content is completely unrelated to the page. In fact, it’s actually embedded to supplement. So, in a sense, it’s almost like opening a jack-in-a-box. Yes, at some point, something unexpected does pop out, but by cranking that lever (or by visiting that website), you’re already looking for whatever waits inside.

A Sophisticated Evolution: For years, even before the influx of video, websites were more than just placid places of digital real estate. Flash animation and motion graphics are familiar features—designed to grab interest and demonstrate sophisticated—so, in a way, automatic video can be viewed as the next phase of this eye-grabbing evolution.

It’s Easy: Another benefit to autoplay is that it saves you the trouble of searching for and click on the necessary buttons to start a video. Instead of navigating up, down, and around, you can just sit back, relax, and consume that easy-to-digest content.

Mission Accomplished: Whether your video has been designed to entertain, explain or sell a product (or, oftentimes, all three), the goal of that video is to be watched. And by autoplaying a video that mission is immediately and irreversibly accomplished.


Surprise? More like Nuisance! Going back to that initial concept (that we are used to starting and stopping media as we see fit), the idea of content—any content, even content we might actually be looking for—bursting forth without our say so can be annoying. It robs us of the autonomy to pick and choose as we see fit.

The Jarring Nature Of Jack-In-The-Boxes: Yes, autoplay can indeed feel like a jack-in-the-box. But is that a good thing? Maybe there’s a reason that we stopped playing with those things when we were kids.

Evolution Or Devolution? Autoplayed video does feel like an evolution, but maybe the more opt comparison is to pop-up ads. You know, those jarring, unwanted often-streaming video clips that nobody ever asked to see. Sound familiar?

Easy Isn’t Better: Just because something is easier, that doesn’t mean it’s advantageous. And in the case of something that’s already rather easy (clicking the Play button), perhaps it’s best to accept whatever “degree of difficulty” click-and-play presents.

Mission Accomplished? What Mission? On some level, yes, the video’s mission is accomplished, but given the potentially jarring nature of an autoplayed video, it’s important to wonder if this comes at the cost of another mission: satisfying the customer. Because while the content itself does of course matter, so too does the environment (and mindset) of the viewer. And getting somebody to watch something annoyed is not necessarily more valuable than them not watching it at all.

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A Compromise On The Horizon? Recently, Facebook and some other social media outlets have added a new wrinkle to this formula that might satisfy both sides: autoplay videos that begin without the sound. This approach still achieves a good deal of what automatic play aims to accomplish—it’s catchy, it’s sophisticated and it can potentially hook you in—but by muting the noise it’s significantly less jarring. Maybe that’s the answer. Or at least a step in the right direction…

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