Online Video Attention Spans

We all know attention spans diminish rapidly once content moves online. With traditional mediums such as theater, television, and radio, you have a relatively captive audience (though I believe lessening as you go down that short list). True someone may get up during a TV show, but they’re still mostly just sitting there with the sole purpose of watching the program on the box.

Online entertainment is a different story, especially for video-based content. Personally, I believe it is a combination of the “snack mentality” and multitasking. In the former, people just want a little bit of something. They usually don’t go online with the sole intent of watching this video or that, they go online to be entertained or gather news & information. The specifics usually aren’t that important ((Notice I say “usually.” Sometime people fire up the YouTube for a certain video. Also, research is also a pretty targeted task. One doesn’t often say “You know, I think I’m going to research… something.”)).

More to the point, TubeMogul recently posted a study in which they tracked how long users would watch a video. The results aren’t really surprising: Roughly 90% of people watch more than 10 seconds, while fewer than 10% will watch more than five minutes, which a fairly strait drop-off as you move between the two. Though there is a slightly larger dip once the one minute mark is passed.

Though, as with all statistics, the numbers make little sense without context.

For a two-week period, we measured viewed-seconds for a sample of 188,055 videos, totaling 22,724,606 streams, on six top video sites

So we know it’s from a variety of sites and (likely) a variety of different videos. The thing I believe is missing is context, namely the type of videos. For example, I have a fairly low tolerance for for shaky cell-phone footage of some dude wiping out on his bike. However, I will often watch most narrative (and the more traditional documentary) pieces through to the end, provided they are intriguing & interesting.

Many times at work, we are constantly talking about this magical “two-minute threshold,” where if a video is longer than two minutes, it’s often too long. However, I tend to disagree. I don’t think there is a hard threshold. If something is engaging, people will watch, provided the have the time. There’s just a difference between watching someone else’s antics and being told a story.

For the sake of argument, many on-line videos are just images of something that (generally) regular people are doing. Dropping Mentos in Diet-Coke, someone’s kid doing something silly, high-school students left to their own devices with a camera ((If you’re a high-school student and reading this, just put the camera down, seriously. Just think about what you are going to be documenting. Chances are, it’s really not a good idea… at all.))… I, and I believe many people, just don’t have a high tolerance for any lengthy video in that category. I believe this is the reason for the rapid fall-off in the TubeMogul chart. Those videos just aren’t worth our attention when our time is finite.

What I would be curious to see is a break down of types of videos. I firmly believe that people will sit down and watch more of an online video if it is narrative or  a more traditional documentary. But I could be wrong. It’s been known to happen once-in-a-while.

[via korrejohnson]

[update: also posted this on the All About Face blog.]