Just yesterday, the news got out amongst email nerds that Microsoft had quietly released HTML5 video support in Windows Live Hotmail, being the most popular webmail client amongst our subscribers. The team at ReelSEO broke the story on their site, which previously featured a video demonstrating how an email could feature an embedded movie. You can view similar examples on Emailblog.eu.

Right-click video controls in Firefox (Mac)

Now, this got a lot of folks very excited. However, the ReelSEO demo overlooked a massive usability issue – as Hotmail disables the default HTML5 video controls, under normal circumstances the email recipient has to right-click on the video to play it. If this instruction isn’t made clear, then there’s a good chance the video will get ignored altogether.

You can work around this limitation by using the autoplay attribute, but as we’ll explain in more detail shortly, we’d rather you not do this. Pretty please.

Default video controls not displaying in Hotmail

Not content to take the word of a demo video alone, we ran a few tests in cahoots with fellow email design pirate, Captain Inbox. Using code provided by the excellent Video Generator for Everybody, we reproduced video playback in Hotmail, albeit without video controls. Here’s a sample of the code used for embedding video in email:

<video width="600" poster="https://www.campaignmonitor.com/assets/uploads/https://www.campaignmonitor.com/assets/uploads/fallbackimage.png" controls autoplay>
<source src="http://mydomain.com/video.mp4" type="video/mp4" />
<source src="http://mydomain.com/video.webm" type="video/webm" />
<source src="http://mydomain.com/video.ogv" type="video/ogg" />

<a href="http://mydomain.com"><img border="0" src="https://www.campaignmonitor.com/assets/uploads/https://www.campaignmonitor.com/assets/uploads/fallbackimage.png" label="Fallback Image" width="600"></a>

After testing video playback in Hotmail across a range of browsers, we were underwhelmed. Perhaps due to security concerns on Hotmail’s part, the video controls did not display in any scenario. In the case of IE7/8 (which do not support the <video> tag), only the fallback content could be seen. Here are the full results:

Browser OS Result
Chrome Windows Partial/Buggy  Empty placeholder, must right-click to play
  Mac Partial/Buggy  Empty placeholder, must right-click to play
Internet Explorer 9 Windows Partial/Buggy  First frame displays, must right-click to play
Internet Explorer 7/8 Windows No  Fallback content displayed
Firefox Windows Partial/Buggy  First frame displays, must right-click to play
  Mac Partial/Buggy  First frame displays, must right-click to play
Safari Mac No  First frame displays, right-click on video is disabled

Using autoplay for evil, not evil

Here’s a bit of news that will cause a collective shiver down the spines of designers everywhere – while Hotmail strips the control attribute, autoplay works as it should in scenarios where HTML5 video is supported. This means that you can make the video automatically play in Hotmail’s preview pane, as soon as it has loaded.

Look, I know some wiseguy (or gal) is going to give this a crack, but honestly we don’t recommend it. Having videos autoplay in the inbox a massive nuisance, especially as Hotmail has disabled the display of HTML5 video controls in most browsers. In Safari, right-clicking doesn’t allow you to access this menu at all.

It goes without saying that having noisy, uncontrollable videos autoplaying in email newsletters is a quick way to spark an unsubscribe exodus from any mailing list. I don’t recommend you test this personally. Instead, if you’re keen on featuring video in email, focus on linking to one that’s hosted elsewhere, such as on your site or YouTube.

Down the track, Hotmail may enable a more elegant way to embed video in email, possibly using Active Views. Details are still very sketchy on what Active Views will offer email designers, but we’ll be sure to let you know if we hear anything further on the grapevine.

Finally, we’re aware that much has changed since we published ‘HTML5 and video in email‘, back in 2009. We’re looking to update our results shortly, so stay tuned to this blog for the latest on video support in email.

  • http://www.liveclicker.com/video-email/ Justin Foster

    My guess is that the right click to play is more a glitch in MSFT’s rollout of this service and will not be a longstanding issue. I did want to point out that by deploying a custom poster for Hotmail users that the “intuitiveness gap” could be greatly reduced if not eliminated.

    I completely agree re: auto-play being a bad idea in email with sound enabled. With sound disabled I believe many in the media, automotive, and CPG space will still want to run campaigns with auto-play on. Though I wouldn’t be surprised to see this feature disabled as well by MSFT.

  • http://www.bombbomb.com Rory Carlyle

    Love the post guys. BombBomb came up with the same summation. “Cool”, but not there yet. Seems as if this is a peripheral benefit to Microsoft updating their web-based services with HTML5, not an actual goal of theirs. I’m assuming the hype around it though will bring everyone’s attention on them to say, “… and … Video in Email as well!”

    Vival la Email

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