Video Playback in Email? Comin’ Right Up!

Brendan Schwartz

Founder, CTO

Ever since we added the “email embed” feature in Wistia, people have been asking if there’s a way to make videos play inside of emails. Unfortunately, historically there’s been really poor support for video playback directly in email.

But as of late, the relationship between video and email has changed. With the release of the latest version of iOS (version 10) and macOS (Sierra), Apple enabled video playback in Apple Mail on mobile and desktop. Between these two clients, that’s about 49% market share.

Video support in email has a long way to go, but going from nearly no support to working for 49% of the market is a big deal! That’s why we’ve built a feature to allow for inline video playback. Hold onto your inboxes.

Video and email best practices

While playing a video right within an email sounds like a nifty experience (and it is), it’s best to consider your goals before going hog wild. In many cases, it’s still best to send recipients to your website to watch your video.

1. If the goal of the email is informational or to have a positive brand touch, have the video play in the email.

Think welcome message or thank you email. If you’re simply trying to delight your audience with a quick video, then playing that video inside an email could be an unexpected treat.

2. If you want the recipient to take an action after watching the video, it’s probably best to send them to a landing page or your website.

On your website, you can pop up a call to action after the video, or place a purchase button right next to the video and make it clear what the next step will be. You might be thinking, why not just have a purchase button or CTA under the video in the email. Isn’t that close enough? It might be!

The only thing to be mindful of is that the bulk of video-in-email support is on iPhone, where the video will take over the whole screen while it’s playing. So while your viewers are watching, they’re not also seeing that CTA.

3. If video analytics are critical for you, send viewers to a page.

Unfortunately it’s not possible to get fine-grained video engagement tracking in email. If you love video data, then it’s probably best to steer clear of this new trend.

4. If you want to learn more about video and email, read our guide.

If you’re looking for more information on this dynamic duo, you can read our comprehensive guide to using video and email together and even download some free video-centric email templates!

Improving the viewing experience

I’m personally really excited to start seeing support for video in email clients, especially on mobile. Clicking a thumbnail or link and having to switch apps can be a clumsy user experience, particularly if you’re on a slow connection.

“I’m personally really excited to start seeing support for video in email clients, especially on mobile.”

On a fast connection, with a new phone, it still will take several seconds from when you click the link in the video to when you’re actually watching. With direct support in the email client, it’s less than a second — that means a drastically better experience and more people actually watching your videos!

When we talked with Jason Rodriguez, a product manager at Litmus, he added:

“Video in email is a great way to enhance an email campaign. Although video doesn’t work in all email clients, it’s still a fantastic way to add a bit of life and delight to an otherwise boring campaign or show off new product features and updates.”

How can I use this in my Wistia account right now?

Head to your account settings and click the Beta tab on the right. From there, enable the Video in Email beta feature. It looks like this:

Once you do that, you’ll have an extra checkbox in your email embed dialog for your videos. Just enable that, copy your embed code, and paste it into your favorite email marketing platform!

The technical nitty-gritty

Email clients support video playback via the HTML5 <video> tag, just like web browsers do.

The embed code for video in email looks similar to what you’d use if you were embedding a video on a webpage. The biggest difference is that JavaScript isn’t supported in email, so we just use the the <video> tag. It looks like this:

  <a href="">
      alt="Wistia For Chrome"

You’ll noticed that we have an image wrapped in an an <a> tag inside the <video> tag. This is important because it provides a fallback for clients that don’t support inline video playback. Which leads us to … 

Back up. What happens if the video doesn’t play?

Right now, this functionality works in Apple Mail on iOS 10 and macOS Sierra.

In other email clients that don’t support video playback, the recipient will see the video thumbnail with a play button superimposed on it. When they click the thumbnail, they’ll get taken to a webpage where that video is embedded.

“In other email clients that don’t support video playback, the recipient will see the video thumbnail with a play button superimposed on it.”

I think this is a good experience. In the industry, we call this progressive enhancement. That is, for most email clients, the experience is unchanged: You get a thumbnail link in your email. But for clients with video support, when you click or tap the video, it will play inline!

The future of video and email

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do expect other email clients to eventually add support for inline video, especially web-based clients like Gmail. That said, email tech and support for new standards moves incredibly slowly. In this case, the <video> tag was first supported on the web in 2010.

We’re excited to have this built in to Wistia, so it’s easy for everyone to play around with. I think there are a lot of exciting use cases for video in email. Let’s find them!

Brendan Schwartz

Founder, CTO

Mailing list sign-up form

Sign up for Wistia’s best & freshest content.

More of a social being? We’re also on Instagram and Twitter.