Digital media shrinking your attention span?

Faith Merino · October 14, 2010 · Short URL:

"Instant" and "singles" could be giving you the attention span of a goldfish

Is digital media causing the average American’s attention span to shrink?  With the barrage of “instantized” websites and digital media that have cropped up as of late, how could it not?  (Why hasn’t anyone instantized the line at the DMV yet?)  While there’s obviously no conclusive evidence to actually chart declining attention spans among Internet users over the last several years, one recent study does show that viewers of online video have remarkably short attention spans—so short that 20% can’t sit through a video past the first ten seconds.

The study, published by online video metrics solutions provider, Visible Measures, finds that 20% of viewers abandon a video within the first ten seconds, and by the time the video reaches the 60-second mark, nearly half (44.1%) of all viewers have gotten distracted and wandered off.  What is even more remarkable about this study is that according to the authors, these rates are the same regardless of the video’s duration—so whether a video clip is 30 seconds long or 20 minutes long, 20% of viewers will drop it no matter what within the first ten seconds.

The study examined the abandonment rate of 40 million videos over seven billion viewings and found that music videos and videos slow to get to the punchline had the highest rates of abandonment.  One video, a Busweiser ad about a man trying to buy porn at a convenience store, took 12 seconds to get to the punchline and consequently lost 40% of viewers in the first ten seconds.  And it’s a funny video!

What else can this mean other than we’ve all had our minds softened by the instant gratification of…Instant?  In recent memory, there was the explosive emergence of Google Instant, which allows Web users to see results as they type.  No need to click or even finish your thought—it’s just there!  (Not that I’m complaining.)  This was followed soon after by YouTube Instant, which made Stanford Computer Science major Feross Aboukhadijeh a Web hero for a minute. 

Like Google Instant, YouTube Instant allows users to browse through videos as they search (typing in “B” brings up Justin Bieber, while typing in “Brit” brings up Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time” video).  Ironically, I can never browse through YouTube Instant quickly because I always get caught up watching Lady Gaga videos.

Even more ironic is that part of Aboukhadijeh’s fame derives from how fast he was able to create YouTube Instant.  “I thought that instant search for YouTube videos would be really cool,” he said in an interview with All Things Digital.  “My roommate bet me that I couldn’t code it up in an hour. It ended up taking three hours, so he won the bet.”

And then Aboukhadijeh received an “instant” job offer from YouTube CEO Chad Hurley via Twitter.  Clearly, “Instant” is in.

Which is why part of me wonders if this plays a role in Amazon’s recent move to start offering Kindle “singles,” e-books that are limited to a max of 30,000 words.  I know that there are more obvious reasons for Amazon’s development of Kindle singles: 1) to find a way to keep offering reading material at a lower priced option than those offered by publishers (some of which are now charging more for e-books than traditional print books), and 2) to offer different formats and provide shorter selections to cover the whole literary market.  But I can’t shake the feeling that it may come down to the fact that people want shorter reading selections because they…have shorter attention spans.  

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Visible Measures’ technology provides analytics solutions to video publishers and video advertisers via a web-based suite of tools. First, video publishers and advertisers can utilize a Visible Measures plug-in that is compatible with most online video formats. As data is collected, subscribers can access rich behavioral and demographic data via Visible Measures’ web-based reporting suite. The company also allows its customers to leverage the data collected in their operations via the available APIs and data services included in Visible Measures’ reporting tools.

Founded in 2005, Visible Measures provides new capabilities and metrics that allow Internet video publishers and advertisers to understand audience behaviors and more accurately predict and analyze the success of Internet video programs. We accomplish this by capturing and measuring every video interaction in every video from every viewer, from play to pause to rewind to forward-to-a-friend and more. We work closely with our customers and partners to provide high value, high impact solutions to the challenges of audience valuation and content monetization.