In Video Universe, Is Time Spent On Site As Relevant As Hits Metric?

While practically everyone cringes when they hear about “hits” as a measurement proxy, purists also roll their eyes when someone puts a big emphasis on page views.  In fact, it wasn’t until a few years ago that some were calling for the page views’ obituary.  But like it or not, a page view is a simple and understandable currency to allocate ad dollars, and as such, it won’t disappear any time soon (of course, unique users remains king, when it comes to metrics that matter -- yes, even in the era of fans and followers).

Nonetheless, one metric that some encouraged to take the page view’s place was the “average time spent” (ATS) on a site.  You need to have been living in a cave not to realize that the king of ATS is social networking behemoth Facebook.  While  Google.com has always prided itself for helping users find what they’re looking for and sending them on their way, Google Corp. has invested in other products, services and businesses that take up more of users’ time, namely Gmail and YouTube. But the ones who have suffered the most from Facebook’s rise have been the portals.

The fact is, while I understand that average time spent on a site is in many, many ways a more meaningful metric than a page view, I wonder: How pertinent is it really, particularly to video producers?

After all, people spend more time on Facebook than anywhere else, but there’s an increasingly loud chorus from advertisers who are unimpressed with the site’s ROI.  Indeed, even though last week comScore issued a bizarre report defending Facebook, it was arguing that the site’s earned media (not paid) was valuable.

Second, video presents its own unique challenge with regards to ATS anyway, since videos are embeddable by nature and often are seen on a third-party site.  In fact, for video producers -- who rely largely on distribution over destination -- ATS on a site is somewhat meaningless, since users are watching your videos on a third-party site, and that site’s ATS is a function of everyone’s content. 

Third, we live in the ADD generation, where we sometimes think in 140 **characters. If you give viewers the information they want in less time, isn’t that a benefit?

So while it’s important to look at that metric across the broader media and advertising landscape, I think that video content producers can distill better data to convey one’s appeal to viewers and value to marketers.  ATS can be misleading, after all; we only spend a few minutes at the gas pump each week, but the oil industry is a massive business.  That is the equivalent of the Google search engine, where users only spend on average 3% of their time, but that activity translates to 40% of the advertising pie online.

In that vein, maybe for video producers it boils down to some kind of utility (or satisfaction) function, which in this context is a combination of authority, credibility, trust, usefulness, entertainment, etc. -- the key drivers that build good will, which adds value to a brand and thus, your content business.

 It’s not that ATS on a site like Facebook isn’t valuable, but I think that is akin to spending an hour sitting in a doctor’s waiting room and then seeing the doctor for a mere ten minutes.  While you can argue that you are a captive audience in the waiting room (reading magazines, or checking out articles or apps on your phone), the fact is that the overall utility you derive from waiting for the doctor is rather inconsequential relative to what you derive from the doctor interaction itself.

I know we’re comparing apples to oranges a bit, but the point I want to stress is that as content creators, you’re not peddling data; you’re trading in emotions. To really maximize the utility you provide your audience, you need to see everything through a different lens.

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