Video abandonment and short attention spans

We live in a world where short attention spans rule, as I wrote in a column more than two years ago. But nowhere is this more evident lately than when it comes to watching Internet video clips. The research outfit Visible Measures found that after the first ten seconds, videos lose about 20 percent of their audiences. Ten seconds? That is a lot of itchy mouse fingers, barely enough time to even think about whether to continue watching. No wonder so many new network TV shows have already been cancelled.

I wanted to see how my own series of screencast videos stacked up to that statistic. For the past two years, I have been producing more than 50 of these over on as well as posting them across more than a dozen different video sharing Web sites. For some of the videos I use a service from where I can track exactly how many people have watched them all the way through, who has abandoned watching mid-way, and who rewinds to see something a second or third time. I purposely speak at a rate that is faster than normal for my narrations, mainly to cram more information into the video and also to make sure that my viewer continues to pay attention. When I first began doing these videos, my goal was to produce something around five minutes in length: now I try for closer to three minutes. Some of my clients have even wanted two minutes or less for their videos. People just don’t have the time and attention spans are dropping.

Granted, these videos serve a different purpose than your average YouTube chronicle of skateboarding cats, but still it was nice to know that my abandonment rates were a lot lower than reported by Visible Measures. I found that within the first ten seconds, I had pretty close to 100% of my original audience, in some cases much higher due to rewinds. Most of the time, it would take closer to 30 seconds before I lost anywhere from 20 to 30% of the original audience. Granted, this isn’t the general public, these videos are geared towards IT managers and business users, and no animals were employed during my productions (at least none that I knew about). And I was gratified to see that I even retained anywhere from 50 to 65% of my original audience at the end of the video. One video that was four minutes long ended up retaining only 25% of the original audience. But I am not sure if it was just too long or the particular subject matter or my treatment or the product itself – it is hard to do exacting research here to link cause and effect.

Ironically, I started doing these videos as a way to package information into a more concise and digestible portion than listening to a 45 minute Webinar. Clearly, we all have to do better at brevity these days.

I will keep this column short. If you want to read what I wrote two years ago you can get more perspective.

0 thoughts on “Video abandonment and short attention spans

  1. You’re right on your comments about the target viewers and the video subject.
    I think this type of generic stats are way skewed by all those teenage kids that spend hours on youtube skipping through rapper’s videos to find something cool. It’s almost like TV zapping: they click through videos and watch 3-5 seconds of it before they click on the next one.

    I truly believe that business professionals have a difference stance to this: they also do some zapping, but they look at each video a little longer, since it’s impossible for them to evaluate the content of a business related video
    in 10 seconds.

    The stats I’ve heard several times is that the maximum time that people can stay engaged with business related videos is 2.5 minutes. At my company we try to keep all videos under the 3 minute mark, and the stats look good, so I think that the 2.5 minute mark is in fact a good one.


  2. David,

    There’s a very good reason why people have short attention spans when watching videos. Or maybe it’s why I have a short attention span. I read a lot faster than I listen, as do many people. So watching a video, unless it has content that cannot be expressed with mere words, is a waste of my productive time… Ben

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