auto-play video mobile

Auto-play video: Apple and Google giveth and the IAB taketh away

Apple & Google want an alternative way to auto-play videos on mobile. But the IAB want to limit this to WiFi connected devices. Who will have the final say?

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Auto-play video for mobile is evolving. But who will have the final say?

Apple and Google want to give ad tech companies an alternative way to auto-play video ads on the mobile web, one that avoids the use of nasty hacks to enable auto-play functionality. While this sounds like a step forward, the IAB is far more concerned with the user experience and wants to limit auto-play video on mobile to Wi-Fi connected devices.

In reality, both of these options have the same goal, to reduce the burden on the user’s device. The result – an improved user experience. We’re going to dig a little deeper to uncover the merits of each so you can decide which is more valuable.

Let’s talk about mobile auto-play video ads

Auto-play video ads in your phone browser use up a lot of data over time. Despite this fairly obvious negative implication, the format is growing in popularity because it can drive 10x the revenue of standard image ads.

Until now, getting a mobile video ad to autoplay has required reliance on a hack,  especially on iOS where a video had to load in the full-screen native player. The new iOS and Chrome updates change all that. It’s time to say goodbye to the hacks and the problems associated.

The good, the bad and the ugly

You can look at mobile auto-play video on a spectrum of polished, to pathetic.

At one end, you have the best example of the ad format in all its glory – on Facebook. Auto-playing muted ads are implemented in a controlled environment within the user’s feed.

Technically speaking, there’s only one ad call, and because Facebook controls the ad unit and ad server it can be lightweight code and compressed video – both easy on the device. The user decides to disable auto-play or choose to only accept it on Wi-Fi. Despite this choice, you will find that no one chooses to limit it because the settings affect all video – not just the ads. It’s in-banner video, but in it’s most considerate format.

On the other end, we find the pathetic versions of the format. Arbitrageurs buy cheap ad slots intended to image ads and load a video player into the user’s browser, then making requests for ads to every ad source they can find. This is incredibly taxing for the phone, running JavaScript that hangs the page, and a never-ending sequence loading resources behind the scenes.

If and when an ad is returned, the ad tech used by the arbitrager exploits a browser hack via the HTML5 <canvas>, not the <video> as intended. This is slower and doesn’t provide any playback or volume controls – less than ideal.

Apple with iOS 10, and Google with the latest Chrome update 53 have taken a pragmatic approach. They’ve looked at the data and seen how much this shoehorned method has slowed web pages, especially heavily arbitraged ones like NYPost.com and Wikia.

The updates they’ve implemented go a long way in improving the mobile experience, but have they considered the user enough?

The IAB goes in to bat for the user

The new draft proposal has some big changes for Outstream players like Teads, and also the arbitrageurs mentioned above (pretty much every video ad network).

This guidance addresses video ads in non-video environments. Video guidance applies to in-banner videos and ‘outstream’ ads that are placed in between non-video content, e.g. in an article or in lists or any video ads in non-video content experiences.

1. Video MUST be user initiated.

2. Video controls to Mute/Unmute audio and Pause/Play video MUST be available when a video is playing.

3. The RECOMMENDED maximum length for in-banner video is 15 seconds and 1.1 MB file size.

4. MINIMUM 24 fps.

5. Video download MUST NOT start until user initiation.

Video MAY be played by the ad without user initiation when it does not significantly impact the user’s cost of consuming content. It may be used under the following guidance:

1. When a user is on Wi-Fi or broadband internet connections. This is to respect the user’s cost of consuming content.

2. Audio MUST be muted when a video is played without user initiation.

3. Auto-play MUST begin after an ad is at least 50% in view.

4. Auto-play MUST provide pause/play and mute/unmute controls from the start of video play.

Even in a draft, it’s a clear message from the industry’s own trade body that more respect should be shown to the user, and to stop pushing them to install ad blockers with obnoxious execution.

Where to now?

Google and Facebook have made a commendable move to provide a much better mobile auto-play video experience. However, the IAB’s assertion is that auto-play is interruptive, cumbersome and a financial burden to the user. You can bet there will be lots more to come from them in the near future and it will be interesting to see how Google and Facebook respond.


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Posted by simonholliday