Mobile operators have learned that as subscribers gain access to faster networks, those networks can face congestion as users choose to download more video. Now videos that users don’t choose to download are also competing for network resources. Facebook is the latest over-the-top video provider to start playing video for users automatically when they use the app.
Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, shows users videos that their friends have uploaded whenever they open the app. When Instagram added video early last summer, it immediately became the world’s top source of mobile video traffic (based on the number of videos viewed), surpassing even YouTube. Now Facebook itself is planning a similar move.
“Everyone and their mom is on Facebook, and once auto-play is live, everyone and their mom will also feel the impact of automatically-loading mobile video on both their data plans and on the overall experience of the app,” said Jay Hinman, head of marketing at Skyfire, a cloud-based mobile video management solution for carriers. “The symbiotic if testy relationship between OTT video providers/facilitators (like Facebook and Vine) and the mobile operators on whose networks their content plays has never been more tightly linked,” Hinman wrote in a blog post.
The addition of unrequested video could mean higher data rates and worse user experiences for many subscribers. Facebook seems to be aware that it needs to tread carefully with auto-play. The company says the new capability will only be rolled out to a small group of random users at first. Only videos directly uploaded to Facebook will show in feeds; feeds will not include embedded videos from YouTube. The videos only play when a user scrolls past them in the feed, and they play silently unless the user clicks to activate the volume.
Videos that play automatically are of course a logical precursor to advertisements, which Facebook is expected to launch in the not-too-distant future. The world’s second most popular website (after Google) could lose some friends if it annoys users with higher data fees and advertisements in their personal feeds at the same time. So it’s a fair bet that Facebook will take a gradual approach to the auto-play feature. But it’s a sure bet that mobile operators need to be ready.
Follow me on Twitter.