Can Content Marketers Escape the Black Hole that Is Facebook Video Autoplay?
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Can Content Marketers Escape the Black Hole that Is Facebook Video Autoplay?

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At first, I didn’t know how it happened—didn’t know what force was responsible—but the act of logging into Facebook shot me back and forth through time. It was like some temporal anomaly pulling me through past, present, and future each time I opened up the news feed and was forced to watch or rewatch a Facebook video autoplay.

In December 2013, Facebook started autoplaying videos that were uploaded directly to Facebook in the news feed. Only those videos uploaded directly to Facebook were eligible for automatic playback, and videos hosted by Facebook also got preferential treatment, getting displayed in the news feed way more often than videos shared from YouTube or Vimeo. Early on, that opportunity for increased organic exposure caused marketers and media companies to dedicate time to Facebook’s video platform, posting more and more videos to Facebook as they vied for new audiences.

Coincidently, December 2013 was when my sense of time-shifting first started, only to be exacerbated during the great Facebook Video land grab of 2014. Videos started autoplaying over and over. Some played so often that I could no longer tell when I first watched them—was it last week or last year? I’ve seen them all—videos of screaming people being faux attacked in Brazilian elevators, that sentimental Thai Life Insurance commercial, and surreal Japanese fake food being formed from liquid plastic.

It takes a lot of gravity to distort time. So just how much video weight is playing on Facebook today? In January 2015, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg stated that the company serves more than 3 billion video views per day. That’s a lot of weight, and that’s enough impression numbers to make up a serious advertising business.

facebook video autoplay is here to stayFacebook Video Autoplay Is Here to Stay

The result is that Facebook’s video success has shocked all the top social platforms into building their own video marketing and advertising businesses. Twitter reportedly started testing video autoplay in March 2015. Pinterest now offers cinematic pins that play back and forth as users scroll through the platform, and Snapchat Discover gives wealthy, savvy media companies the chance to deliver video stories to a highly engaged and growing audience made up of both generations Y and Z.

Personally, I may be disturbed by autoplay, but the question is not whether autoplay has won the user experience battle: The question is, “Which social platforms, brands, and media companies will win the autoplay war?”

Champagne Wishes, and Audience Development Dreams

Introducing Instant Articles, a new tool for publishers to create fast, interactive articles on Facebook. Learn more at instantarticles.fb.com.

Posted by Facebook Media on Tuesday, May 19, 2015

“If you don’t have somebody in 10 seconds—they’re out. It’s probably actually less than that,” commented Todd James, senior photo editor of National Geographic Magazine, in a recent product video for Facebook Instant Articles.

As an editor for the Content Standard, I can tell you that content publishers have significantly less than 10 seconds to make an impression, grab a user, and get them to stay. Often that first impression is made through design. So, in order to get an early taste of Facebook’s latest user experience design, nine leading media companies have signed on to test Facebook Instant articles with high-definition video storytelling through Facebook video autoplay as one of the major benefits to the user experience.

By allowing Facebook to host the content, publishers forgo driving traffic back to their own domains. But why? Well, in that same Facebook Instant Articles promotional video, Summer Anne Burton, editorial director of BuzzFeed Distributed, commented, “Our metric of success has always been sharing and engagement. You can’t trick someone into sharing something. You have to make really good stuff that really makes people feel something.”

Today, making good stuff is as much about the look, feel, and load times of the content as it is about the story that is told. Even legacy media—as an important part of hooking ephemeral digital media audiences—has accepted autoplay.

A Content Creator’s Nightmare

Just like the video that just plays when you turn on the television, Facebook Autoplay is an all-around success. Facebook users like autoplay video. They engage with autoplay video at a much higher rate than with static video that gets shared from YouTube.

Brands and media companies have parlayed this video into bigger audiences, and Facebook definitely benefits by growing their advertising business. But there is an early loser in this video land grab: the content creator. Facebook’s native video platform went from zero to 3 billion daily views in a short period of time, and in some cases that growth was driven by highly entertaining videos that were uploaded to Facebook without the knowledge or consent of the original content creators.

Original content made from independent content creators has sometimes been uploaded by Facebook users and owners of verified Facebook pages. This phenomenon of uploading video to Facebook without attribution is known as freebooting, and many well-known YouTubers are accusing Facebook of being complicit in the theft of their content. Before it’s young video hosting platform can be called a success, Facebook must address the concerns of the independent content contributors whose content will power view counts well into the future of autoplay.

For more information on how the content business is evolving for publishers, brands, technology platforms, and content creators alike, subscribe to the Content Standard.

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