Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

The most important part of your online video stories

Posted in Online Video by Adam Westbrook on January 30, 2012

What’s the most important thing to consider when making online video?

Is it having a high end DSLR camera with a prime lens? Afterall, if your pictures look pretty and slightly out of focus more people will watch it, right? Nope.

Is it having a really compelling character on a journey we can all relate to? That’s super important – but it’s not the most important thing.

Is it having a rhino suspended upside down from a helicopter? Nope, it’s not even that!

So what’s the most important thing to consider when making online video?

It’s the first ten seconds.

That’s how long you have to win your viewers over. As I mentioned in this article for journalism.co.uk last week, statistics suggest around 20% of people click on from a video after just 10 seconds.

According to Visible Measures, that means if your video gets 1 million views, 200,000 of them didn’t watch past the first ten seconds.

It’s a harsh fact but people are fickle; weeks and months of work, and thousands of dollars invested in a video all stand on the first 10 seconds.

It amazes me then, just how care-free some big publishers are with their first 10 seconds of video.

For example, in a non scientific test, I had a look at some leading online news organisations. The Financial Times, Telegraph Newspaper and CNN all blow their first 10 seconds showing me a pre-roll advert. No thanks guys.

The Guardian loses 4 seconds on its branding ident, even though Guardian videos are not shareable (and so you’ll likely only ever watch it on the Guardian website). That gives them just 6 seconds to make me interested.

So who gets it? Good.is get it – they don’t mess around with branding at the start of their videos and crack straight in. Not always, but usually with a good hookline.

Phos photos, the producers of Last Minutes with Oden get it. In the first 10 seconds they tell us the title, introduce the main character and he says something interesting.

Eliot Rausch/PhosPictures

The exceptions to the rule are the longer, cinematic pieces – for example those produced by MediaStorm: the first 10 seconds still matter, but they’re able to take a slower approach, easing you in & setting the scene. In this case we’re watching for the story, and the opening of Act I is a good place for storytelling nuance.

Getting the first ten seconds right is not easy. Looking back over pieces I’ve produced in the past, I’ve blown the first 10 seconds on all sorts of nonsense. I’m trying to make more active decisions though, and in this short film I recently directed for Kingston University, I used the first 10 seconds to tell a bizarre anecdote that doesn’t fit with what the audience expects, as a way of piquing interest.

Kingston University/Adam Westbrook

So what should you use the first ten seconds for?

  • To show your most arresting images
  • To use your strongest soundbite
  • To surprise your audience
  • To raise a question in the mind of your viewer, setting up “the big reveal
  • To get straight into the story

It is not the place for idents, adverts, cliches, weak pictures, hackneyed introductions, or anything waffly.

This advice has nothing to do with creating good documentaries or crafting engaging narratives – but none of those things matter if you blow your first 10 seconds.

16 Responses

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  1. serials + said, on January 30, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    this is v nice i like it

  2. Benjamin Chesterton said, on January 30, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    Hi Adam,

    good post, and I do think a lot about the first ten seconds, almost always coming in hard. But I read your statistics slightly differently. Only 20% click away in the first fifteen seconds, that leaves me a whopping 80% to play with.

    I think we would need to understand as well why those 20% click away. There will be, I’m sure, multiple reasons.

    • AdamWestbrook (@AdamWestbrook) said, on January 30, 2012 at 6:26 pm

      Good point Ben – and good online video (like all online publishing) is about targeting a specific group of people – and therefore not appealing to the rest.

      It’s just also a shame to lose your target audience in the first 10 seconds too!

      • duckrabbit said, on January 31, 2012 at 10:47 am

        Totally agree Adam. And as I say its a really important point you are making. We have to try and lock people in with the opening.

  3. [...] The most important part of your online video stories « Adam Westbrook :: online video & entrepr…. Categories : [...]

  4. Jonah Kessel said, on January 31, 2012 at 2:42 am

    This is an interesting post Adam. I agree with roughly 99 percent of what you are saying, but I think its also interesting to point out the relationship between pacing and the venue we screen our online videos in.

    As you point out, MediaStorm has developed a reputation for high quality long form video journalism. Because of this, when people screen videos at MediaStorm they do so in a way more similar to which you might watch a documentary on your television. You probably haven’t “stumbled upon” this site. The viewer is usually there to watch something specific, as opposed to a general viewer who is just clicking around the web and decides to hit play on a video that pops up.

    The story tellers at MediaStorm — are in no rush to tell their stories. Some are short, some are long — but regardless, they pace their stories (and introductions) in a way which is appropriate for that story. And sometimes that has a clear intro aimed at gaining your attention, and sometimes they can take a longer approach.

    I believe those viewers who are browsing the web for … well, who knows what — but certainly not specifically your content, then you are right — you have about 10 seconds or less to get (and keep) their interest.

    If you think about pacing and venues people watch online videos at, there are very few examples I can think of where people go to to watch longer form video. In a similar respect, I’ve been doing analytic studies on my videos this year and know there is an enormous correlation between the amount of people who finish my videos and the video length (shorter videos = more finishes).

    One way to summarize this thought:

    • In trying to gain hits, views from the viral video market — you probably have less than 10 seconds to get their attention and keep them watching.

    • In trying to tell stories successfully, you’ll be doing your subjects and videos more justice by pacing it (both the intro and video) based on the nature of your content, than by constricting yourself to a set of rules and getting the video to a venue where people who are interested in that subject might see it.

    Thanks for an interesting post.

    • AdamWestbrook (@AdamWestbrook) said, on January 31, 2012 at 9:24 am

      This follows on nicely from what @benjaminchesterton above and I agree there is a distinction between the two different styles/audiences.

      I really like your last point though – the key is to establish a ‘venue’ for your work where the audience are expecting more nuanced storytelling, as opposed to putting it on Youtube & hoping for the best.

  5. Robyn Bateman said, on February 21, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    Hmm, I’m relatively new to this audio and video lark, working on it as part of the multimedia module during my MA in Online Journalism with BCU but useful tip re the 10-second rule – thanks Adam. I guess the first 10 seconds of video is like the old fashioned intro you’d get in print journalism; you get a short period of time or words to hook the listener/reader before you lose them.

    I have to say though, that I wasn’t taken in by the first 10 seconds of Last Minutes with Oden. The title makes sense to me now but it starts with a man smoking a cigarette, riding his bike and talking – I think – about his dad being in prison. It’s not quite clear to me because I can’t hear the guy speaking clearly in that first 10 seconds. If I’d just stumbled on this video I wouldn’t have watched it through, based on those 10 seconds. I guess there has to be some subjectivity involved – some people like to consume interesting stories by video, some don’t, some will be interested in the subject of the video, some won’t.

    I think what I’m saying is it’s tough… not only does the audience have to be interested in the content to watch on, you also need to frame it so they stick with you and don’t tune out. Steep learning curve for a newbie like me,at least.

  6. Félix Arias Robles (@cibermensaje) said, on February 23, 2012 at 11:03 pm

    I agree with you, Adam. But I would add that one of the keys to the success of a video, especially ín online media, is the first image you can see before playing it.
    Anyway, congratulations for the post and the blog.

  7. serial pk said, on February 26, 2012 at 7:49 am

    good post, thanxx

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