Facebook Adds Sound to Auto-Play Video

February 16th, 2017

One of the defining features of Facebook video has been the way that, unless you press play, it auto-plays silently. Hover over a post and the footage starts, but unless you choose to engage with it you don’t hear the audio.

This has played an important role in shaping the nature of the content that has been embedded on the platform. Most videos specifically created for Facebook currently contain subtitles so that they can be watched in a meaningful way without sound. The quirk has created an opportunity for a new breed of video companies like Tasty and Twisted which specialise in producing food creation videos where the audio track barely matters.

Now however everything is about to change. In a blog post on Tuesday the company outlined how in the future videos will auto-play with sound. The route the platform has chosen means that the sound from the video fades in slowly – so you won’t necessarily get blasted with sound each time a video starts.

Here’s what they had to say.

“As people watch more video on phones, they’ve come to expect sound when the volume on their device is turned on. After testing sound on in News Feed and hearing positive feedback, we’re slowly bringing it to more people. With this update, sound fades in and out as you scroll through videos in News Feed, bringing those videos to life.”

There are caveats though. If a phone is set to silent then obviously the sound won’t be audible. Crucially too Facebook has enabled users to switch auto-play sound off by adjusting their settings – a process which is explained here.

Image result for facebook video

However, most users are likely to be hearing sound from now on. That isn’t to say that they are going to be happy about it though. The obvious downside for Facebook users is that they are now much more likely to get caught out looking at their news feed in situations when they really shouldn’t be, such as during work, class, dinner or even a conversation.

There is inevitably going to be a backlash, so Facebook has quite wisely chosen to roll out the audio auto-play slowly. It won’t be universal until the end of the year.

So why have they made the move?

Well firstly Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly stated that he believes video is the future of the platform. He has backed this up by innovating in this area many times such as Facebook Live video. The auto-play news was part of slew of video announcements which included adding vertical video and enabling a person to watch a video while continuing to browse their news feed. There’s also a video app for TV coming.

Secondly, Facebook is under a degree of pressure from brands who are very keen on sound on auto-play. Video ads are a huge opportunity for Facebook and there are clearly some big corporations which won’t advertise on the platform unless it can guarantee that users hear the audio.

The move also brings Facebook in line with its rivals. Both YouTube and Snapchat leave sound on by default. It doesn’t seem to have dented either of their popularity.

Questions for brands

From a brand perspective the key benefit is that the days of automatic subtitles on Facebook videos are gone. It enables companies to make more of their music soundtrack and be more creative in their approach – especially by hooking viewers in through audio at the start of the video.

It also means that video views will be more accurately measurable. It is possible that many videos run on Facebook without a person even being aware that they are live. That won’t be the case anymore. Facebook will in theory be able to prove levels of engagement to its advertisers.

So the next few weeks will be interesting for Facebook. Some commenters have already decided the move is the last straw and they are going to leave the platform. Others have compared Facebook to MySpace which also had an auto play strategy, which they argue undermined its appeal.

Ultimately though Facebook tested the features and decided that the users were fine with it.

So if you have been creating subtitle heavy silent videos – I am afraid it is back to the drawing board!

Commissioned by The CMA

  Share: Posted in CMA Industry News