We have become so used to (nearly) instant gratification when it comes to content online that if a video doesn’t start up within 2 seconds you can see between 15–20% viewer abandonment. Yes, you read that correctly 2 seconds. Bottom line: online viewers will not wait for your video to start. What is most problematic about this finding, is that for many of us the amount of time a video needs to buffer is completely out of our control (but we get the blame). What can we do to help deal with this issue? A few things, actually.
These findings come from Conviva and have been reported by both ReelSEO and (today) eMarketer, and I don’t think any of the sources offer solutions that most people can do something about. Things like “continuous viewer measurement, multi-bitrate and multi-CDN (content delivery network) optimization, or pre-emptive network mapping” are way beyond the control of most marketers creating videos, uploading them to YouTube, and embedding them in websites.
What you can control, however, is the quality of the video that you start with. While we all want to have the highest quality video for viewer to see, only 43.6% of online video watchers can even handle high quality video, so pushing out the full HD version of a video, might sound great, but in the end, what will it gain you? Probably not enough to justify the millions of viewers (and dollars) you might lose with people dropping off before it plays.
Creating video for the web is always a balancing act between quality and file size. In our case, file size is less of a consideration after you’ve uploaded it, it’s the initial quality that will make a difference. What can you do?
- Use H.264 video compression on export
- Skip full HD unless you’re a broadcaster (even then…), 720p HD is more than enough for most web videos
- If you can’t use YouTube as your distribution channel, look at large video content networks like Brightcove to host and stream your videos.
And as we talked about in an earlier post—don’t forget about mobile—because non-PC devices are even more susceptible to video slow downs (and therefore abandonment issue). Regardless of platform, video startup times can be beyond the magic two second mark:
Again, all we can do is make sure we start with great video…
The reality is that much of this problem has nothing to do with our videos, if a person’s Internet connection is slow, if YouTube is having a heavy load because a pop star’s video has gone viral, no amount of tweaking or tuning on video production or exporting will help. At least if you know that you started with the right foundations—well optimized video, exported with the right balance of quality versus size—then you’ve done as much as you can do.
Molasses photo from Flickr by Alex Schultz.