Video media – how to wake the baby

I’m a bit of a news junky, and I have several sites that I tend to visit – prime amongst these are the BBC News site, and the Sydney Morning Herald. I’ve been wondering lately just how high the price for online media should be, when it comes to news stories on sites such as these.

There was a day (oh, Glorious day) when you would visit a news story containing embedded video. You’d hit the button, the video would play, you’d watch it, and the transaction was done. Media consumed, transaction completed.

Nowadays we’re all becoming conditioned to seeing a three-stage process. Your media now comes after an advertisement, followed by a short ‘channel brand’ message. Watch the ad, the message, and then you can watch the media.

It delays your media by 30-45 seconds, but nothing too onerous – unless, of course, you’re trying to watch a number of media items altogether; something I have, unfortunately for me, tried. Imagine tv with an ad break every 45 seconds – fun, huh?

But even this isn’t enough, it seems.

Some time back, the Sydney Morning Herald began running the media embedded on pages automatically. You’d view a page, start reading, then within a few seconds a loud and intrusive ad would begin to play.

The only way to stop this was to learn a new behaviour; if you opened a page with embedded media you needed to wait a second or two until the ‘click here to NOT play’ message appeared over the media, hit it, and then you could safely move down the page and read. This is far from good user experience. There is a clear transaction occurring when I do decide to watch. It’s not ideal, and some would argue it’s weighted far too heavily against us, but there is a clear transaction involved in watching one ad to see one piece of online content.

But it gets worse.

Recently, the SMH.com.au website has started playing ads that can’t even be paused. That means if you forget to hit the Don’t play button, you’re stuck with an ad playing for 30 seconds or so, with zero control over pausing or stopping the sound. Remember, that can happen after you’ve scrolled down a page and you’re in the middle of reading the article itself.

So now not only do we not get control over watching the media directly, not only do we not get control over whether to actually watch it at all, but we also don’t get control to stop the media if we don’t manage to head it off at the pass.

And it gets worse still – because the Herald site also doesn’t want you to turn the audio down – I mean, what’s the point in forcing you to see an ad you don’t want to see if you go and mute it, right? So although the volume and mute controls are there and can be used, they are as effective as  – well, as an ad you are forced to watch at gun point.

As happened to me this week, this leads to potentially nasty viewing. You’re quietly surfing with the baby sleeps, you’re skimming stories, and all of a sudden a guy starts shouting about the benefits of the latest Holden car. You scroll up and desperately try to hit the pause, but nothing happens. You reach for the volume controls, but nothing happens, you hit the mute but still nothing happens, so in desperation you hit the Back button, and a couple of seconds later the audio finally stops. Five seconds after that the baby wakes, and your night is completely wrecked – thanks to an ad you didn’t want to see attached to media you didn’t even request watching.

Personally it’s causing me to switch news sites. I love the content at SMH, but I’m getting pretty fed up having to outfox intrusive ads for media I don’t even want to see. Reading the news shouldn’t be as painful as this…

Gary Bunker

the Fore