Online Video: The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Does Your Online Video Drive Customer Engagement?

Like it or not, successful video producers have adjusted the output of their craft to mesh with the quick-judgment sensibilities of online video viewers. After all, if a video doesn’t hook the user within the first four or five seconds of content, we know they are likely to wander off into the digital haze of  “One Pound Fish” parodies and bad Russian drivers.

That’s just the way it is.

Or, at least that’s the way we thought it was.

UMass Amherst professor Ramesh Sitaraman has thrown a spanner in the works with his research on video streaming quality and its impact on viewer behavior. CNN’s headline summarized the findings quite succinctly, “Online viewers ditch slow-loading video after 2 seconds.”

Yes, that’s two seconds BEFORE the five seconds a user requires to make a conscious decision about watching content. So, if your video doesn’t load by “two-Mississippi” there is a good chance that those stellar first five seconds of your content won’t even be seen.

That’s a true video fail.

Professor Sitaraman notes that users have far more patience for slow-loading web pages than they do for video. I believe this to be a carry-over from the instant gratification expectations set by television. Consumers have long compared online video experiences to watching the old warhorse in the living room. As a technology, TV is hard to fault. Select a channel, see a video. No buffering, no delay.

Try that, oh mighty iPad in a crowded SoHo coffee bar, I dare ya.

Indeed, mobile likely compounds the issue. Unlike the early broadband era, today’s primary screen is no longer a PC hardwired to Ethernet. Our audiences use wireless devices big and small, in the house and out, with all of the ups and downs of connectivity that brings … not to mention the additional challenges of mobile plan bandwidth restrictions and data throttling. Full-quality high def videos are likely to stumble, bumble and halt in the untethered wilds of the wireless world … heck, they may even cause some “chunka-chunka-buffer-pause” on your old wired desktop.

We can’t control what happens when a user’s device goes on a 3G/4G/NoG hunt for a signal but there are ways to help mitigate the problem of download speed.

The easiest is to use a smart video player that can automatically adjust the video output to better suit an individual user’s device type, operating system and connectivity speed. While not foolproof, it certainly helps.

How you present your player window can also help the cause. Don’t clutter a video page with heavy graphics or advertisements that can drag download speeds to a crawl. A successful video experience really only needs two things: the video and its associated metadata (title, description, etc) …

Finally, there is no harm in offering smaller video windows with tightly compressed streams and letting users click for higher-resolution streams if they believe they have the connectivity and horsepower to display the mega-HD version of your content.

You know your latest meme-bending video is going to go viral … if only people see it. Prof. Sitaraman says you have two seconds.

One Mississippi… two Mississippi…

Rob Davis is the Director of Advanced Video Practice at Ogilvy in New York.

Follow him on Twitter: @robertjohndavis

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Posted in Customer Engagement, Mobile Marketing

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