Everyone loves video — except when they don’t
Wednesday, December 06, 2017
You love video.
You know how I know? Because just about every report I've read in the past year related to video content says you do.
Apparently, I'm supposed to love video also. Except that I don't.
It seems that since Facebook kingpin Mark Zuckerberg stood in front of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in early 2016 and hailed video as the key to his fortunes, everyone has taken it for gospel that video is the short- and long-term future.
"Most of the content 10 years ago was text, and then photos, and now it's quickly becoming videos," Zuckerberg said. "I just think that we're going to be in a world a few years from now where the vast majority of the content that people consume online will be video."
It's difficult to doubt Facebook, I admit. Given its position as gatekeeper of the social world, the company has access to a lot of information and knows a trend. It also wields unrivaled power in the ability to force a trend if it so wants. And it wants.
Barraged by the consistent studies and surveys that hail video content, and having experienced firsthand the transformation of a media outlet in a pivot to video, I had to wonder if I was alone — the outlier in a world that has turned its back on words and can't be bothered to read.
I routinely see the statistics such as these below, from a recent WordStream article:
- Video attracts two to three times as many monthly visitors.
- One-third of online activity is spent watching video.
- 85 percent of the U.S. internet audience watches videos online.
- Marketers who use video grow revenue 49 percent faster than nonvideo users.
- Video on a landing page can increase conversions by 80 percent or more.
- The average CVR for websites using video is 4.8 percent, compared to 2.9 percent for those that don't.
Curious about the validity and usefulness of some of these claims, I set out to do a little research of my own. Here are my personal findings on video content.
First, let's establish that my research is a small sample size and likely wouldn't carry much weight with someone like Nielsen or Forrester — though I challenge that all research has its shortcomings. I questioned a small group of some two dozen colleagues who work daily with content. These are people who seek, curate, create, relay and distribute content every day.
The first thing to jump out at me was just how wide the sea of "video content" stretches, and it reminded me how generic and nonspecific the term is. We're talking about anything from full-length movies and TV shows to home videos to instructional content to news to marketing, etc.
It was common for respondents to note they liked video in some instances but not others. Understandable, but also poignant because a lot of existing research on the topic fails to break it down into its smaller segments.
That's important when you read all these quick and easily digestible statistics about engagement levels of video. In most cases, we don't know what specific questions were asked or whether they're related to a specific type of video content. We often lack proper context, so be careful taking these reports at face value.
A common theme from my respondents was that video content in places you expect is OK. Social feeds, for example, that feature friends' home movie clips.
What's not OK? Autoplay.
Only one person in my query said they liked autoplay video, and one other noted it was acceptable so long as it didn't autoplay the audio as well.
My best guess is that autoplay video is largely a regrettable reality of our ad-based internet model. Obviously, you're going to tally far fewer clicks and pageviews if the videos — especially advertising or marketing — are opt-in. But autoplay video is one of the biggest nuisances in online user experience.
Before you get the impression my aim is to discount video content, allow me to further clarify my own personal stance: I think it can be a highly useful supplement. My colleagues largely concur.
Almost unanimously, they agreed that video is a fantastic supplement to text. This flies in the face of an MWP finding that 59 percent of senior executives say if both text and video are available, they prefer to watch the video.
Now, I didn't interview senior executives, and I'm not sure why they limited the question to that demographic, but a full two-thirds of my lab rats said they would rather read a 500-to-1,000-word story than watch a 60-to-90-second video.
Again, this likely comes down to the purpose of the video. If you want to figure out how to replace the heating element in your water heater, you might like a 90-second instructional video. But if you're looking for news or information, words offer something far more easily scanned than video.
You can tell by skimming over a news article whether it has the information you want or need. If you're looking for specific information, having to watch an entire video in hopes of getting that information can be enough to force someone off your page and go elsewhere.
I know what you're probably asking yourself at this point: Is this guy just a surly old man who just doesn't get it? After all, I'm not a millennial (so apparently I don't matter anyway), and we're led to believe that millennials are all about video.
There were indeed some millennials in my survey — and they did, in fact, tend to favor video content more than those from older generations. But an important caveat: Almost half said they didn't necessarily prefer video to text content.
That leads me to the grand conclusion of this meandering missive: Video can be useful and, in some cases preferable, but let's not forsake everything else purely in attempt to feed from the video trough. People like pizza, but it doesn't mean every restaurant should offer only pizza.
Video for the sake of video won't keep those attractive engagement statistics high for long. As it moves from a nascent medium to de rigueur, people will become more discerning in their viewing habits, especially if you continue to force unwanted content upon them.
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