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Facebook has been involved with video for a long while, but the social network isn’t necessarily known for it. Desktop videos often go up on YouTube and mobile videos tend to find homes on either Vine or Instagram. But a change quietly rolled out in Facebook’s mobile apps could hint at a bigger play in the video space. Users on iOS and Android may notice that videos in their News Feed now start automatically, offering a potential increase in video views and opening the door for Facebook to monetize itself in yet another way — with video ads.

Worried about auto-play videos eating up your data plan? Facebook provides an option to turn them off.
Worried about auto-play videos eating up your data plan? Facebook provides an option to turn them off.

TechCrunch’s Josh Constine first noticed that a video was auto-playing while browsing his News Feed, and confirmed with Facebook that the videos were indeed starting on their own. Facebook stated that the change was intentional and that it should roll out to most iOS and Android users in the near future. As far as the desktop version of Facebook goes, the company isn’t sure when auto-play videos will come to that.

I’m pleased to report that Facebook put some serious thought into the change. For starters, videos don’t auto-play with sound as they do elsewhere (ahem, Vine). Instead, they play through silently, and only after tapping on a video to make it full screen do you hear any audio. This means you won’t be startled by a loud video, and you won’t draw any unwanted attention to yourself should such a video play while you’re browsing Facebook.

Facebook also took cellular data consumption into consideration. One of the more annoying things about certain apps is that they sometimes download and play videos that you weren’t expecting, usually in the form of an advertisement. Pandora used to do this over cellular, and Words With Friends still does so. Videos can eat up a lot of data, but fortunately, Facebook included the option to disable the auto-play of videos if you aren’t on a Wi-Fi connection. A tip of the hat to you, Facebook.

We covered the idea that Facebook might introduce video ads before, but this move really seems to signal that it’s more than an idea at this point — it’s an inevitability. If Facebook can assure users that videos will play in the timeline and that people will actually see them, those users may suddenly have a reason to post videos. Getting everyone used to seeing videos in the News Feed will make the introduction of video ads much less jarring, and will come with the added benefit of stealing some of Vine’s thunder.

The big question — will Facebook users be okay with this? We’ll get the answer as the video aut0-play function rolls out to more users over the next few days and weeks.

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