Posted November 27, 2008 8:49 am by with 23 comments

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By Taylor Pratt

Whenever a friend or coworker sends me a YouTube video, the first thing I do is look at the length. Anything over a minute I hesitate to watch. Now that I think of it, anything over 30 seconds in length I hesitate. I just don’t want to invest that much time in it. There are plenty of great short videos out there that I can waste my time on. Apparently, I’m not alone.

According to a recent TubeMogul study, the average video watcher spends less than a minute watching any given clip. Ten seconds into an average clip, more than 10% of viewers move on to something else.

Because of studies like this, advertisers are requesting ads be shown at the beginning of videos. As much as I don’t want this to catch on, how could it not? Why would any advertiser want to pay for their ad to show up 60 seconds into a clip when over 50% of viewers had bailed by then?

If Google were to roll out these ads at the beginning of each video, would users flock to other video sharing sites that aren’t playing the ads? Those sites might not have as large of a selection as YouTube, but at least you wouldn’t have to double the amount of time you care to invest in a video.

How long do you usually spend watching a video? What are your thoughts on ads being rolled out at the beginning?

via MediaMemo

Taylor Pratt is a Search Marketing Specialist at nFusion, a results focused marketing agency.

  • This is only to be expected. The average time spent on a web page is 0.56 seconds. People want instant gratification of their needs and if your web site or your video doesn’t do it, they’re off to find someone who can.

    That doesn’t mean people will not watch long videos – but they have to be compelling, story-led, with high production values. Most material on YouTube is amateur with low production values.

    Advertising at the front will ultimately fail – people skip online ads largely and software will inevitably find the start of the real program, rendering the adverts useless. Time after time, advertisers are failing to realise they need a substantial change in their mindset – a tectonic sized shift in thinking. So far they just keep coming up with minor changes like “let’s put the ad at the start then, if people won’t watch for long”. Newsflash – people dislike adverts no matter where you put them….!

    So what does this all tell us? It suggests that advertisers will only achieve returns if they advertise in professionally produced, high quality online videos – just like advertising on TV at the moment.

  • I hate video ads in any form! I think what they should do rather is offer a static image ad as a place holder while the video loads, or at least until it’s buffered. Well, my thoughts anyhow.

  • People stop viewing when they see a pre-roll ad. I have many videos that are an hour long and hundreds of people watch then everyday and every night.

    paul’s last blog post..Innovation Agenda

  • Regardless of all the data that’s been collected, I don’t think attention spans are shorter. I think we simply have a lower tolerance for things that don’t interest us.

    If a football game is going down to the wire and something smells like it’s burning in the kitchen, the football fan can convince himself that burnt dinner isn’t all that bad.

    We have a variety of videos to watch, so we have become pickier.

    With regard to videos being shown at the beginning of clips … I don’t like it, but I force myself to sit through them if I want to watch the clip badly enough.

  • If the ads are stimulating and varied, then I don’t see users boycotting a video site just because ads run at the beginning of every third video – but if you have to watch the exact same 5 or 10 second clip at the beginning of every single video, then users will definitely find somewhere else to go for their video fix. In any case, usage will definitely decrease if ads are introduced. People won’t put up with much when it comes to something demanding patience.

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  • I think Hulu is trying to change this by offering episode long shows. When people know from the beginning that they are looking for longer programming then they have no problem watching it online.

    Jaan Kanellis’s last blog post..?Stack The Memory To The Sky? (or Computer Friends) by Sniper Twins feat. Rob Collier [Seagate]

  • As always, numbers only tell part of the story. More interesting than knowing how quickly viewers drop off of longer content is knowing WHY.

    Is it really because of short attention spans, or is it because they are browsing content for something relevant and valuable to them? I’d love to see qualitative research, but would be willing to bet on the later.

    If that’s true, then it may be less important to keep your content short than to make sure that you immediately offer something in the first seconds of your video to let the viewer know what it’s about and what value it will offer. Then they will know whether to finish watching or to move on. Whether or not they finish watching, if it’s good, perhaps even forwarding to a friend who might find it more relevant.

    We know viewers do find some content sufficiently relevant and valuable (individually!) to engage and stay with it for much longer time frames.

    Pre-roll ads may mean that users are less willing to spend time browsing for content they want to watch, and may make them resent being forced to watch an ad before even deciding if the content is relevant. How do you target an ad before your audience has even decided fully whether to tune in?

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  • I agree that viewers are looking for specific content, and thus can jump around until they find exactly what it is they are searching for, however I do not agree that it is at all important to have high end production elements to make a video worthy of watching. If the content matches the viewers request then the length, production, or even in some cases quality of stream doesn’t seem to matter. If what the viewer is watching is valuable to them they will watch for as long as it takes.

    As far as advertising goes it seems as though the the viewing audience is trying to push to eliminate advertising, however they are also reluctant to pay for content. So lies the struggle of content creation around the globe. Everyone deserves to get paid for their work so why is it becoming common place that content viewers don’t want to pay the creators or their sponsors? Just a question.

    Dennis Lankes’s last blog post..Chris Brogan?Author, Award Winner, Social Media OG.

  • I consider anything more than a minute as a waste of time. In the first twenty or so seconds, if my attention is not grabbed by the video, I simply stop it and move on. If I were an advertiser, I too would ask for the ads to be shown in the beginning itself.

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  • Red

    It’s not instant gratification, it’s the fact that there’s a lot of boring crap out there and it better grab the viewer in the first minute, especially if it’s really long. Short ads don’t bother me too much, but the same ad over and over and anything over 10 or 15 seconds is too much.

  • People are going to bail out of watching a video clip if an ad is the 1st thing they see. This should shorten perceived attention spans even more!

  • This is usually the biggest problem with stupid data.
    You can make it look it fit exactly what you want to say.

    When the web really started taking off, web editors used to tell me to keep my articles to less than 500 words, because no one reads online (apparently).


    We did a test. We put in hidden stuff along the way at 800 words, and 1200 words. And frankly we could have written 10,000 words.

    Most people don’t know how to do video. Any more than they know how to hold your attention for more than a few paragraphs. And the problem is never the length of the video. It’s always the ability of the creator. Tell me truly. How many people know how to create a video that holds your attention?

    They don’t.
    And you know what?
    In the 1900’s, Claude Hopkins wrote a book.
    It seems that people weren’t reading.
    Well, he wrote about this fact in Scientific Advertising.
    There’s a whole chapter on why people don’t read.

    It’s because the writers are boring.
    Do you think I’ve made my point yet?
    Are you still reading yet?


  • Also remember that this data is an average.
    Of all the klutzes. And the mediocre. And some genius.

    Klutziness is about 95%.
    Genius is about 5%.

    That data is an average of klutziness. 🙂


  • Not really a big fan of video ads in any form! I think what they should do rather is offer a static image ad as a place holder while the video loads, or at least until it’s buffered. Well, my thoughts anyhow.

  • Have to say, unless it’s a video that I’m after, I just click the video shut that’s presented to me almost right away so I agree with the findings.

  • I have noticed this as well. Looks like quick food revolution is turning food for soul into quick food as well. Why watch Romeo and Juliet when you can see somebody get hurt, make up and sing within 10 minutes. Bad example I know, but still.

  • Well it is certainly true of me, so many videos on youtube and so little time!

  • The web breeds ADHD.

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  • Interesting research. Shorter is better. Thanks for sharing!

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  • PS3

    I would be more likely to stop watching if I saw an advert right at the start of a clip. Either that, or fast forward past it.

  • I wonder why the big push towards vlogs now then? I would say very few people have the ability to capture attention on video anyway, so these video bloggers may be spending a lot of time creating video content only to have the majority of people watch 10 seconds or less…interesting.


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  • I agree with these stats. I only watch the first part of the video and if it is boring, I bail out on it. They should target this part of the video or make it extremely interesting to keep the viewers watching.

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  • The decision to display the ads in the beginning of the video is right on all 100%. The majority of viewers do not waste more than 30 seconds on a video. The same is with me, if it does not manage to capture my attention, I just stop it.