Brands Ask for It, and Twitter Hits Fast Forward on Autoplay Video

New format ready by summer

Twitter is close to unveiling its autoplay video, finally giving marketers the format they say is a must for branded content. Twitter has been heavily promoting autoplay in its latest sales pitches, and it will launch by the end of June, sources familiar with the plans said.

For some time now, the social media giant had debated whether to allow self-starting video. It's something advertisers have clamored for. Dynamic video is an instant attention grabber that generates more engagement with users—Facebook has enjoyed it since rolling out its Premium Video product early last year.

"Because of Facebook, the march toward autoplay is inevitable for Twitter and every online publication," said Richard Guest, president of Tribal Worldwide's North America operations. "As a more creative-oriented agency, the concept is exciting and it helps our work."

Twitter has tested two versions of autoplay. One is a six-second preview on loop before the full video; another automatically plays the clip in its entirety. It's a closely kept secret within Twitter's halls which it will choose.

One principal benefit of autoplay is it draws users' attention with motion in an otherwise static feed. "It's a very valuable impression even if they don't click on the video," said one digital ad exec familiar with Twitter's strategy.

The company declined to comment for the story, but last week CEO Dick Costolo told Wall Street analysts during a call that video is performing well. "The volume of native mobile video shared to Twitter" has increased greatly, Costolo said. "That content is some of the most engaging on the platform."

Advertisers say Twitter's ultimate mission is to compete with Facebook on targeting. Just last week, it struck a deal integrating ad technology with Google. Twitter now "has the ability to help track the performance of Promoted Tweets for brands using the Google ad server," Guest said. "That's a really powerful offering, helping to understand what video works best."

But some marketers said that autoplay hasn't swung far enough in their favor—it still doesn't play sound, leading to paid impressions for silent ads. "We like autoplay with sound," said an executive from a top Hollywood advertiser. "Maybe it's not the best user experience, but without sound, it's not the full advertising experience."