Firefox's 'Block Autoplay' feature: The balance between UX and ad revenue

Firefox has now introduced the Block Autoplay feature to prevent videos and audios from automatically playing on websites when consumers chance upon them. Consumers who wish to view the video will have to click on the play button to watch it. The Block Autoplay feature, however, will not stop videos that automatically play on mute.

In the meantime, consumers who wish to binge-watch videos on their favourite websites will have to add those particular sites to their permissions list. This includes streaming sites such as Netflix, Hulu and YouTube. Doing so will enable all subsequent videos to automatically play with sound. Additionally, its latest update also features scroll anchoring, which enables the page to remember where users are at so that they are not interrupted by slow loading images or ads.

Firefox is not the first internet browser to block the autoplaying of videos. In 2017, Apple blocked videos from autoplaying on its Safari Web browser while Chrome also introduced built in ad blockers. Web browsers have been constantly innovating over the past few years to reduce or remove frictions in order to improve the user experience. This move points to the growing trend of adblocking and is a good development for the consumers, Prantik Mazumdar, managing partner of Happy Marketer, a Merkle Company, said. This is because consumers do not open a browser just to see ads and ads disrupt the content consumption process.

Over time however, advertisers will be impacted as their ads won't be served and their reach will drop, Mazumdar explained. This trend also signals to brands to create more relevant stories, run more targeted native campaigns to increase relevance, not disrupt consumers with tactics such as autoplays and also be more transparent in their data collection process.

"If this trend continues, which is likely, we will see more regulation in this space laying out clear guidelines for serving relevant, high quality, permission-based digital ads that strikes a good balance between keeping the broader Internet free and provide a secure and good browsing experience," Mazumdar said. On the other hand, he reckons that more publications are likely to set up paywalls to offer ad-free browsing options for those who are willing to pay.

Meanwhile, this news comes as no surprise to Invictus Blue's managing director David Soo, who foresees other means of restrictive advertising to be introduced under the context of improving user experience. The main challenge advertisers will face is to find means of getting their messaging across to consumers in more relevant ways.

"Context is key and if we hypertarget accurately with the most relevant message it would be viewed or read," he said. Soo added:
There will always be a balance to be struck between user experience and ad revenue.

Nonetheless, there is no need for advertisers to hit the panic button as the feature is elective and users still have a choice in dictating their user experience.

Although it is still too early to comment on the impact on pricing for advertisers, Mediacom Malaysia's general manager, product and new business, Saurabh Chandrashekhar, said when there is improved viewability, retention and conversion, publishers may start to command a premium price for their inventory.

Since Firefox has been late to the game in terms of blocking the autoplay of videos, it is important for the company to have its pulse on how users behave with their apps or browsers and then adapt to the changes. Chandrashekhar said that while the ad experience does matter, these changes need to work hand in hand with other critical concerns of users today especially in the area of data security and interoperability.

Will Firefox see an increase in user base?

Soo doubts these additions will mean that there will be a significant increase in Firefox users. Instead, he said, this is another point for agencies to be mindful of when developing content that is to be consumed by a wider audience across browsers.

Also agreeing with Soo is Mediacom Chandrashekhar, who said Firefox's Block Autoplay feature will "force" advertisers and algorithms alike to create advertising content that’s empathetic rather than disruptive. Like Soo, Chandrashekhar said it is unlikely that Firefox will see an increase in users because this feature has come late. "But working in conjunction with other enhancements and given enough word of mouth, the possibility cannot be discounted," he added.

Meanwhile, Ramakrishnan CN, partner at Entropia said this is a good move by Firefox and keeps it in line with features that Chrome has. However, since Firefox does not have a significant market share, he believes that the impact on advertisers or users would not be significant. "I am a fan of Firefox and love how it doesn’t suck resources like others and I hope that they pick up more users," he added.

(Photo courtesy: 123RF)