Lengthening Attention Spans

For decades, marketers have been warned of the short attention span of their audience -- and conventional wisdom says that as competition for attention got stronger, that attention spans would get shorter. However, the way we consume content online is changing this.

The rise of Hulu and other network sites has had the effect of normalizing the watching of long-form video online. The MediaPost Research Brief reported two weeks ago indicates that users are interacting with more long-form video. Even more telling, comScore's June release states that average length of online video consumed increased by 15% between November 2008 and April 2009.

Users are becoming more willing to engage with longer form content, and this is translating into a willingness to consume longer advertisements; when given the choice, over 88% of Hulu users prefer to watch fewer but longer ads.



Although this trend seems motivated by users feeling the pain of more frequent, short-form advertisements, it isn't confined to users within interruption-based advertising systems like Hulu.

A few weeks ago at Internet Week, I was discussing the preliminary results of a campaign from a popular soda brand. The company had created a video spot that was two minutes long and called out its involvement in a niche sport. It had not targeted outreach to members of that niche community, which I thought was ill-conceived, until I heard that over 20% of its 250,000 viewers watched 100% of the video.

By broadening the targeting requirements, the brand was able to lower media-buying costs, increase distribution, and execute a successful campaign without having to rely on traditional interruption-based advertising.

In the end, we are dealing with a new system, one that more closely aligns the goals of the consumer with the goals of the advertiser. As marketers begin to accept that their audience wants choice in what it pays attention to, they are realizing, conversely, the benefits associated with providing that choice, along with incentives to pay attention to the brand.

As my mother always said, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

5 comments about "Lengthening Attention Spans ".
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  1. The digital Hobo from, June 24, 2009 at 3:25 p.m.

    I'm confused by your leap from content length to targeting.

    I'd be hesitant to use the amount of video consumed, and its length, as a proxy for attention span. A very large amount of that increase has to do with the amount of long form content that is available for users to watch. Users are spending more time watching because what they want to watch is now available to them. Not because we've conditioned people into longer attention spans. If we could have watched a sitcom, or any TV show for that matter, from the beginning, we would have. It just wasn't a very good experience. There's a difference between choosing not to endure and bad user experience vs. increasing our attention span.

    Also, regarding the leap from content length to targeting and campaign success, again, I think its premature to use examples like that as a general proxy for success.

    When advertising in long-form content, users are less likely to click away or abandon their content when presented with a pre- or mid-roll ad. If you've watched the first 20 mins of a sitcom on Hulu, are you going to abandon that content when they present that last mid-roll pod? absolutely not.

    Where you run your ads can dramatically impact the metrics. I'd like to hear more about the length of content where that 2 min spot ran. I dont think that 20% is a very high completion rate for in-stream, linear video advertising at all. The video ad networks are reporting more than 80% video completion rates (Tremor, Brightroll, etc)

  2. Tyler Willis from Involver, June 24, 2009 at 3:46 p.m.


    You made some points, that I will try to address satisfactorily:

    1) I don't see the need to differentiate between people actually having an improved attention span or simply are just applying an attention span they already have to the digital arena. Either way, the length of time spent with a piece of video content online is expanding. If we must split hairs, their "online attention span" is growing.

    2) Note that I did not say that the example i gave was an example of "in-stream, linear video advertising" and actually noted that it did not rely on interruption based advertising. But I absolutely should have been more specific about the placement, it was an in-page unit that showed within a social network.

    3) Comparing completion rates with traditional networks actually doesn't make sense here, as those numbers are likely for shorter form content.

  3. The digital Hobo from, June 24, 2009 at 3:59 p.m.

    @ tyler

    Thanks for the reply. Just looking for more details to get a better understanding of what worked/works.

    In page in a social network. OK. Was it autoplay? Was it above or below the fold? Autoplay will definitely increase your completion rates.

    Regarding the comparison to traditional networks, I'll agree that its not a fair comparison now that we're clear this wasn't a linear in-stream ad. But I'd still argue that completion rates should be higher for professional produced long form content than for short form content. But thats for another day.

  4. Peter Drew from Peter Drew Communication Services, June 25, 2009 at 9:10 a.m.

    It's a natural progression as long-form content moves online. People will watch longer form content because it's now available to them instead of countless short user generated videos involving cute cats or males getting hit where it really hurts.

    I do see a problem with ad targeting as it stands right now. For example, hard liquor :30s and :15s in animes and cartoons on Veoh. Bacardi and Ketel One ads over and over. Unless they're "pre-selling" 5-18 years on drinking, this placement appears to be way off target if not just plain unethical. What's next? Hmm. How 'bout Pikachu or Bugs Bunny endorsing Jack Daniels?

    I know online placement is still pretty much in its infancy, but misplaced buys need to be addressed fairly quickly from what I've seen on a number of video content sites. Increasing video completion rates are great, but do we want eight year olds watching booze ads at all, much less all the way through?

  5. Daniel Sevitt from EyeView, June 25, 2009 at 11:49 a.m.

    Great minds think alike. I wrote today about the exact same topic.

    I wouldn't normally go trolling for links, but if you're interested in reading my less eloquent version of the same, it's here:

    I look forward to reading more of your articles in the future.

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