Posted by: structureofnews | October 7, 2010

Attention Span of A Gnat

Not to insult gnats or anything, but this chart from Business Insider highlights some of the challenges faced by anyone trying to build a news-related business out of videos.

According to Visible Measures, the group that supplies the data for the chart, a fifth of video watchers are gone in 20 sections, and if the piece lasts more than a minute and a half, you’ve lost more than half the viewers.  That’s not really surprising – we get distracted quickly online, few web videos are really well-done, and unlike reading, we can’t easily skip ahead as we skim over something that might be marginally interesting.  So we turn off if it doesn’t grab us quickly.

To be honest, I’m surprised that 80% stay even 10 seconds. So this might even be construed as good news.

The problem is that it’s not such great news if you’re trying to build a business based on video, at least for news organizations.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, video isn’t cheap to make, relative to text.   And good video is very hard to make.  So if the audience isn’t staying particularly long, on average, it’s going to be hard to build and sustain a customer base.

To be sure, this isn’t a chart of news videos; perhaps the attention span for those is longer.  Although I doubt that.  And it’s also true that a equivalent chart showing how long people read a text story would probably show the same pattern.  Only really good stories/posts/blogs grab us; we lose interest online very quickly.

The issue is cost – and shelf-life.   It’s relatively cheap to turn out mediocre stories; less so so-so videos.  (Good ones, of either variety, take more time and money to produce).   Text is more easily found by search, and in archives – and, as we’ve discussed here, has the real potential for longer-term value if we learn how to structure it right.  News video still isn’t as easily found, and doesn’t – at least so far – lend itself to ‘datafying’ or increasing shelf-life.   There are exceptions, of course – city guides, explainers, etc.  But in general the economics just don’t look as good.


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