7 reasons why Facebook will autoplay sound despite complaints

If you’re freaking out about Facebook starting to autoplay videos with sound by default, at least it won’t pause or play on top of music you’re already listening to through apps like Spotify. Facebook confirmed to TechCrunch today that sound will not autoplay on Facebook videos if you’re already listening to something on your device. You’ll have to tap the sound icon to toggle audio on or tap to make the video full-screen, both of which will pause your other music app.

Some users are sure to be annoyed by the change to autoplaying audio in the News Feed that Facebook announced yesterday. It could lead them to inadvertently blast sound from their phones while in public. That might lead to embarrassing situations, with users getting caught trying to browse Facebook on the sly during work, class, dinner or a conversation. Luckily, those who hate it can turn off autoplay sound in their Facebook settings.

But there are a number of reasons why Facebook would want to do this, surrounding a central theme: Video is the future of Facebook, and it will clear any obstacles to making this content more watchable.

  1. One simple switch – Facebook is essentially deferring audio control to your device’s physical mute switch, which in some ways makes audio less confusing than having to properly configure both the switch and the toggle on each video. Somewhere you can’t be loud? Keep your whole phone on vibrate.
  2. Testers liked it – Facebook said initial tests received positive feedback. It wouldn’t be worth defaulting audio on if it decreased usage of the app, so the change might¬†sound worse than the actual experience.
  3. Snapchat’s doing it – Facebook’s biggest competitor, Snapchat, already leaves sound on by default, which has made it a favorite place both for people to watch videos and businesses to buy video ads.
  4. Video advertisers – Speaking of which, audio is critical to driving an emotional reaction to an advertisement. Snap says more than 60 percent of its video ads are watched with the sound on already. Video ads are emerging as one of Facebook’s biggest money-makers, and as it maxes out ad load this year and doesn’t have space to cram in more, it needs to make each video ad more memorable.
  5. Reduce need for subtitles – Professional publishers now often slap flashy, stylized subtitles on all their Facebook videos to make them understandable with the sound off. That can both be distracting from the visuals, but also isn’t something normal people can do to their clips. User-generated video thereby becomes a second-class citizen, conflicting with Facebook’s goal to put “friends and family first.”
  6. Potential for video soundtracks – Facebook is pushing harder in negotiations with record labels to strike a licensing deal to allow users to include copyrighted music as the soundtracks to their videos. This would prevent annoying copyright infringement take-downs, and make boring stick-your-phone-out-and-pan clips more like epic music videos.
  7. Adapting to wireless earbuds – Apple’s AirPods are great, and wireless earbuds you can leave in throughout the day will continue to rise in popularity. That will allow more people to watch Facebook videos with the sound on, even in public.

Will some users get pissed off? Sure. But Facebook is making a calculated bet that these benefits outweigh the complaints of a vocal minority. Remember, people protested the News Feed’s launch before it became Facebook’s most popular product.