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Facebook isn't the only social network looking to take on Google's YouTube. Twitter is looking to ramp up its video rollout by letting some videos play automatically.
Starting today, some people in the U.S. who use Twitter's iPhone and iPad apps may notice videos playing in their feed even though they never pressed play. It's part of a two-pronged test the company is conducting to see whether people are more likely to watch a video when it starts playing automatically as it does in Facebook, as opposed to the current model requiring a click to play, as it does in YouTube.
"We're running a small test on a few variations on the video playback experience," a Twitter spokesman said in an emailed statement.
This autoplay video test will apply to Promoted Video ads, videos that users upload through Twitter's mobile app and clips that are part of its Amplify program, which lets companies like ESPN and the NFL post videos with pre-roll ads, according to a person familiar with the matter. Videos that originate in Vine, Twitter's company's 6-second-video app, will not play automatically on Twitter as part of this test.
In one prong of the experiment, some people will see entire videos automatically play in a loop, while in the other, users will see looping 6-second autoplay previews teasing a video, the person said. Both formats will play the videos on mute. If people click on either video format, the video will expand to full-screen and play with sound.
Ad Age reported in January that Twitter told agency execs during CES that it was considering adding 6-second previews of brands' video ads that would play automatically.
Autoplay appears to be an easy way for companies to grab viewers' attentions. If a video starts playing on its own, then you're already watching it. If it doesn't autoplay, then you might need to spend time reading what the video is about before clicking to play it; in that time, you might decide you don't want to watch it after all. Autoplay can also help boost view numbers, which can be an important metric for companies trying to coax celebrities, publishers and brands to post videos to their properties.
Facebook has parlayed autoplay video into big-time view counts since rolling it out in September 2013. During the social network's most recent earnings call in January, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook -- which counts a video as viewed after it has played for three seconds -- now averages more than 3 billion video views per day.
To date Twitter has counted a video as viewed once someone clicked to play it. If the autoplay preview format is officially adopted, it would likely continue to count a video as viewed once someone clicks to play the full version, the person said. It's unclear how Twitter would count full-length autoplay video views.
The autoplay test is Twitter's latest move in setting up its video arm to take on YouTube, which has dominated the digital video space for years, as well as Facebook, which is looking to usurp YouTube.
Roughly a year ago Twitter poached YouTube exec Baljeet Singh to be its head of TV and video so that the company could beef up its video business beyond the Amplify program and Vine. This January, Twitter added the ability for people to record and upload videos within the company's mobile apps as a way to increase the amount of video posted to the social network. And last month it acquired Niche, a company that matches advertisers with digital celebrities like YouTube talent and Vine stars for brand campaigns.