Short-Term Attention Prevalent For YouTube; For TV, Not So Much

Shorter and shorter attention spans seem to be our digital video future. But what about attention for traditional TV shows?

According to recent research, a third of Internet viewers who watch a typical three- to five-minute video clip on YouTube will depart within 30 seconds after watching. Twenty percent leave within the first 10 seconds.

But what about traditional TV? We typically know the drill for a weakening show: If the second half-hour (or 15 minutes) of a show has significantly lower viewership than its corresponding first part, that's bad news. Viewers can be bored with the content. But it doesn't seem that in-program TV erosion of a specific show is speeding up.

Of course, the YouTube study looked at a hodgepodge of videos -- user-generated, corporate messaging, entertainment-driven movie trailers and TV promos, and other stuff. That's entirely different from mainstream, standard TV shows. (Some research has said overall short-attention spans in people may be due, ironically, to TV viewing itself. That's another story).



In some ways it's amazing TV producers/programmers haven't seen a quicker turn-off rate similar to what goes on in the YouTube world. This may be because whether watching a show live -- or in time-shifted mode -- we are still in that "lean-back" TV position, which seems we give a TV show more of chance to succeed.

This is probably also true for Hulu -- if not more so. There we go to the site to see premium TV shows we already like, as another time-shifting device of sorts.

David Scardino, entertainment specialist for media agency RPA Inc., believes that actually the reverse might be true with traditional television: with all the time-shifting technology around, iffy shows might get a better chance than they would otherwise -- especially when played back in a time when there's nothing else to watch.

Television viewers probably aren't turning off weak TV shows faster than in the past. Sure, there are shows like Fox's "Lone Star," which was canceled after two episodes (its second show losing 25% of its audience in the show's closing minutes compared with its opening minutes). But other shows in the recent past also sank quickly. Last year CW's "The Beautiful Life" and another Fox show of a few years back, "Girl's Club," also got the quick pull.

Fragmenting media means consumers have a lot to chose from. But for TV anyway, programs don't get short shrift once we make a decision to turn them on.

1 comment about "Short-Term Attention Prevalent For YouTube; For TV, Not So Much ".
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  1. Joe Huber from Garrigan Lyman Group, October 4, 2010 at 6:11 p.m.

    Wayne, can you check your link to the "recent research?" I connect to a 2004 article in USA Today about short attention span in infants and toddlers attributed to TV.

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