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UM bans video ads with Fairfax until autoplay ends

Mat Baxter Media agency UM has instigated an immediate ban on running clients’ ads across Fairfax Media’s video network because autoplay videos are annoying users and making them hostile to advertisers, Mumbrella can reveal.

The decision – one of the first high profile moves by new UM boss Mat Baxter – came after the agency commissioned a survey of users and 96% said they found autoplay videos annoying.

UM’s major clients include the Federal Government, Coles, Microsoft and Sony Pictures. Baxter said: “Not all our major clients have had Fairfax video inventory on their media plans, but we have spoken to the relevant clients and the decision applies across the board.”

The agency said that it has raised the issue with Fairfax “several times” but no action had followed.

On most Fairfax sites, videos start autoplaying after a few seconds, unless the user notices and stops it. For advertisers, a concern is that their ads are playing unwatched because a user has scrolled own the page – or that their ads are potentially associated with videos annoying consumers.

When Mumbrella editor Tim Burrowes interviewed Fairfax Digital’s MD of media Pippa Leary about the issue last year she claimed: “What’s amazing is 75% of people who come to the site watch those videos to completion. We test it constantly. We ask them those questions – overwhelmingly they come back and say no, we prefer to stop it.”

The interview was one of the most commented upon stories on Mumbrella last year, with many claiming that she was wrong.

And UM’s own research also directly contradicts Fairfax’s claims.

The agency surveyed a sample of 500 people who regularly visit Fairfax sites. It said that 96% of people found the practice “annoying”. And in a finding bringing into question the effectiveness of video ads in that environment,  44% of respondents saying they always muted their computer when videos played.

Meanwhile, 25% of people said that when they were interrupted by uninitiated video whilst reading an article they navigate away from the page.

And 61% of people felt more negatively towards brands advertising on autoplay video, versus only 24% when brands advertised on user-initiated video.

According to UM: “This research contradicts a study presented to media agencies in 2010 by Fairfax stating autoplay was not as widely disliked as people thought.” Baxter said:

“Our research shows that video engagement levels on Fairfax sites are significantly lower than on other sites and much of the time the video is completely ignored.

“Video autoplay is misleading by design and we are not prepared to support Fairfax’s practice. This move is designed to protect our clients from paying for video inventory that is not only largely missing consumers, it is annoying them highly.”

He added: “This issue has been discussed in the industry for some time. Our research revealed just how alienated people have become with the practice and how damaging it can be for brands to be associated with it, so effective immediately we will not be purchasing video on Fairfax until autoplay is removed.”

UM is not the only media agency putting on the pressure over online video. As Mumbrella revealed last month, Ikon Communications has given the industry until tomorrow to become VAST (Video Ad Serving Template) compliant or face being taken off its schedule. The move was in part because Ikon wants greater transparency over how many ads have been played and to whom. At present agencies are often forced to take media owners’ word for it on whether a schedule has been delivered.

At the time of posting no immediate comment was available from Fairfax.

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