Home > Distribution, Production > Attention Spans Waning, or Too Many Choices?

Attention Spans Waning, or Too Many Choices?

Rebecca Greenfield over at the Atlantic reports the following story:

The Internet’s Attention Span for Video Is Quickly Shrinking

The bulk of the piece is focused on MixBit, a new app offering in the works by the gentlemen who originally developed YouTube. Given that success it’s fair to assume that they have something here, but I think there are two problems with the piece – the headline and the implications of the MixBit app.

The headline I think is misleading at best. Yes, a year and a half is a lifetime in the internet age, but a drop of two minutes attention span on average could mean almost anything. Are producers shortening their videos and therefore the average piece is now down to five minutes instead of seven? Is there more video in the aggregate and more people watching, therefore there’s an impact on the averages even if people are still watching plenty of video? What, in fact, do they mean by “watching video?” If I sit down to a Netflix session with a 45 minute episode of Dr. Who, I’m there for the duration; if I’m goofing around and catch some viral thing that bores me after 30 seconds, I’m gone no matter how long it lasts.

I’m not specifically questioning the methodologies of the ComScore report – I don’t generally care to dig into those and I wouldn’t understand much of it if I did. The question of attention span may matter, but the big question I always ask of pronouncements and trends like these is “What does it mean to me?” Averages matter, but the corporate or enterprise video producer cannot and should not be driven by trends and statistics. You have a story to tell, and audiences to reach – keep focused on that and let the length run to whatever you need to tell the story best. No, you’re not going to reach your targets with a 30 minute homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey. You probably also can’t reach them with a 6 second Vine and get them to purchase your products. Make your best editorial decisions when you shoot and edit a piece, and don’t worry too much about the length, as trends are trends and only provide general information.

The second issue revolves around what turns out to be the bulk of the article, which makes the headline doubly misleading – it should have been titled “YouTube Founders Build Another Video App”. In the end I think MixBit is just another editing tool – in Ms. Greenfield’s words, “MixBit goes even further with its social tools by allowing people to create hour-long videos by splicing together up to 256 of those 16-second clips” [emphasis in the original]. While I grant you the 16-second base clip of MixBit is longer than both Vine and Instagram Video, I’m not entirely certain what makes this app especially revolutionary. Yes, you can make longer clips out of existing video pieces, but why would a serious production team leverage this tool to make long video pieces? If the audience grows outrageously, yes I guess it’s one more outlet, but the competition with existing tools is frankly too great for me to consider this a particularly helpful addition.

While I applaud every new opportunity to bring video to the viewers, it’s important to keep your team’s eyes on the prize. In the end, especially for the enterprise video team, these micro-video tools should be used sparingly and as a supplement to the larger efforts of the group. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype around new features and distribution channels, and that’s what makes it all the more critical to focus your attention on the goals of the organization. A new editing tool like MixBit may be great for the general user, but if you’ve spent thousands of dollars on equipment and editing suites, what benefit does this add? Yes, Instagram now lets you upload your own videos (as opposed to shooting within the app) – does this actually mean you’ll reach more of your target customers there? Make sure you answer those questions properly no matter what the trends say.

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