November 11, 2012

Videos That Buffer, Suffer

Recently highlighted by The Verge was an obvious “no shit, Sherlock” study:

It’s hardly a surprise that viewership drops the longer it takes for a video to buffer, but a professor has analyzed data from 6.7 million unique visitors to try and put some numbers with the trend. According to a paper published by professor Ramesh K. Sitarman of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, viewers begin to abandon a video after a two second delay, with six percent disappearing per second thereafter.

Sure, it makes sense. That spinning buffering icon is a motherfucker, no matter if it’s only for a few seconds. Yet I think the plot doesn’t really address an even more saddening reality in the state of online video. How exemplary is your content when people, who have already clicked through to view, are willing to abandon it completely after two clicks of a wristwatch?

Commercials on Hulu are a bitch. But I sit through them. Much, much longer than two seconds as well. With a mix of some “second screen” distraction, same could be said for live television, radio (and Pandora), the movie theater previews and a bevy of other forms of commercial entertainment. Why? People will stand marginal delays if the content is worth waiting for.

Although online video zealots with a pile of YouTube channel subscribers claim to be of equal standing as the legacy media industry, these types of viewing time statistics could imply otherwise. While channel surfing was and still is a common behavioral habit, what television shows could possibly survive in the environment where the bulk of viewers only watch it for less than a single minute?

Now I’m not trying to necessarily demean all online video content, but there definitely still is a gross rift between the standards on the web versus that of Hollywood. If not in quality, then in just the public perception of quality.

Once this isn’t the case and the gap is closed, then we can talk. As an online content creator now, however, you’ve pretty much only have two choices. Catch them within a few seconds at all costs, or don’t worry about that whatsoever and just make content that’s actually worth someone’s time. Most isn’t.