Instagram is breaking the sound barrier on videos.
This weekend, Facebook's photo- and video-sharing app tweaked the sound settings on videos in its app on Apple and Google Android phones.
Now, users who turn on the volume for any video on Instagram will automatically hear sound on every other video for the rest of the session (unless they turn it off again). Previously, users had to activate the sound on each video individually.
"This is a big opportunity for brands," says Theodor Arhio, global director of creative and content at TBWA. "It means if someone clicks a cat video, then the next time they see and ad they get the soundtrack to that, too."
Volume is becoming a key battleground for Facebook and Snapchat. Snapchat has said that more than two-thirds of video ads play with sound on. That had to be a sore point for Facebook, which had been selling advertisers a sound-off experience on the theory that most users don't want to be assaulted by sound as they scroll down the News Feed.
Facebook is now trying to encourage more sound-on viewing on all its properties, because advertisers want their ads heard, as well as seen. Advertising studies have shown that more than 80 percent of Facebook video ads roll without sound. Hoping to change the dynamic, Facebook has been slowly introducing sound in its main News Feed, too. Earlier this summer, notices began appearing on the social network about new volume rules that peg video volume to a phone's settings. If the phone's volume is on, Facebook videos play with sound.
Instagram declined to comment for this story, but confirmed its new video settings, which TechCrunch and others reported over the weekend.
Here's how it will work: When a person enters the app, all videos will start with the sound off, whether they're ads or unpaid posts. During that session, if a person taps the volume for any of the videos, the rest will automatically play with volume for the remainder of the session. Reverting to mute on an individual video will make mute the default for subsequent clips for the rest of the session. The next session the setting returns to volume off.
Videos in Instagram Stories have a different volume setting and ad format. Those vertical videos in Stories, which disappear after 24 hours a la Snapchat, have sound on from the start if a phone's volume is on.
Facebook has been trying to train many in the creative ad world to develop ads that work with the sound off, emphasizing best practices for brands including the need for subtitles and visually captivating openings to videos that could hook viewers.
Advertisers have not been completely convinced about sound-off ads, however, and top buyers such as GroupM have implemented strict ad viewability standards, including sound requirements, for what they will pay for on digital.
In the meantime, rivals like YouTube have been touting 96 percent sound-on rates.
Facebook also has a new Watch section that is similar to YouTube, with programs meant to be viewed with sound. Commercial breaks will obviously run with volume there.
The new Instagram sound design does not mean brands have to stop thinking about creating for the social environment, Arhio says. In fact, brands have to be even more careful.
"This backfires if they don't do sound right," Arhio says.