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Facebook Autoplay Ads Won't Be As Bad As You Think (But Everyone Will Still Hate Them)

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YouTube: theofficialfacebook
YouTube: theofficialfacebook

Facebook autoplay ads are slated to pop up in our newsfeeds starting this summer -- letting brands give us their pitch as we scroll through wedding announcements and bar mitzvah photos. We've been eager to find out what kind of options Facebook will offer corporate sponsors, and on Tuesday, a Financial Times report offered the most detailed account yet of what Facebook autoplay will be like.

The good news: The ads don't sound as bad as initially thought. The bad news: Nothing's going to stop people from hating them.

The Financial Times reports that the video ads in newsfeeds, which will start showing up in July, will automatically play for at most 15 seconds, and each newsfeed will host ads from only one brand per day. But one of the most salient (and revealing) details from the Financial Times report is about what the ads won't do. "The new video ads will appear in a user’s newsfeed with the first video starting automatically but without any sound," write the FT's Robert Budden, Emily Steel and April Dembosky. "Users will then have the option of activating audio, at which point the video will restart from the beginning."

There are few things an Internet company can do that are more disruptive (not in a good way) than having a webpage make noise without a user asking it to. So many of us have had the experience of having multiple browser tabs open without knowing which was automatically playing an ad that browser extensions have been built to spot the offending webpages. Ads that play video and audio when opened are nearly intolerable. The good news for Facebook is that ads that just move without making sound are merely annoying.

In fact, you probably already use a website that quietly autoplays adds: YouTube. Go to the video-sharing website's homepage on any given day, and a video at the top will start playing -- quietly, until you click on it. These ads haven't engendered the sort of hatred that loud and blaring autoplay ads elsewhere on the Internet have.

Still, users aren't likely to give Facebook the same sympathy they give YouTube. Since its initial public offering last year, observers have looked at every tweak Facebook has made as just another frazzled attempt to grab more ad dollars. Ordinary users notice too: According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, Facebook's customer satisfaction is the lowest among all Internet companies surveyed, and fourth-lowest overall among all 230 companies surveyed. YouTube scored 73 out of 100, 12 points above Facebook.

Of course, making money is the intent behind any ad platform. Just as web publishers bit deeply into newspapers' ad revenues in the 2000s, online video providers are poised to bite into TV's cash streams as Internet bandwidth improves nationwide. According to the FT, the market for U.S. TV ads is $64.5 billion, and Internet video will eat into it to the tune of $4.1 billion in 2013. That explains why Facebook is starting now.

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