Study: Viewers Only Wait Two Seconds for Online Video to Start

Online video viewers have a remarkably low tolerance for videos that don’t start quickly or play properly. But who knew the tolerance was so slim?

Turns out, video viewers will only wait two seconds before they start ditching a video to do something else, according to a study conducted by a University of Massachusetts computer science professor using data from content delivery network Akamai.

“We’ve always known people get frustrated when these things have happened, but how do you quantify that?” said Ramesh Sitaraman, the professor who conducted the study, during a phone interview. “Programmers want to understand this because everything depends on this.”

Like ads. If the video doesn’t start, that often means the ad doesn’t start. Sitaraman studied the video habits of 6.7 million unique viewers playing 102,000 videos, comprising 216 million minutes, from 12 programmers over a 10 day-period. The results underscore that programmers have a sliver of a margin for error because consumers have little patience for online video shenanigans.



After two seconds, viewers start checking out, and the abandonment rate continues at about 5.8% of viewers for every second thereafter of delay, he said.

Programmers that offer shorter videos, such as news clips, face the toughest audience. About 20% of viewers for shorter videos will leave after five seconds of startup delay. Viewers will wait more for movies, TV shows and videos longer than 30 minutes. Only 10% of viewers will abandon those videos after five seconds of startup delay.

When a video freezes or buffers, viewers take off too. Even if only 1% of the duration of the video buffers, a viewer will watch 5% less of that video than a viewer who experiences no buffering.

At what point do programmers lose most of their audience? For consumers with high-speed connections, anywhere from 60% to 70% abandoned the video when the startup delay reached ten seconds. Sitaraman said mobile viewers have a much higher tolerance for waiting. Only 17% had abandoned a video when a delay hit ten seconds.

These findings align with other technology firms. Video analytics and technology company Conviva has said that viewers watch 32% more video-on-demand when they don't experience a problem in the video, compared with viewers who encountered stalled, frozen, or buffering streams. Conviva also found that viewers who experience a single video start-up failure return 54% less frequently to a programmer than those who don’t.

3 comments about "Study: Viewers Only Wait Two Seconds for Online Video to Start".
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  1. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, November 13, 2012 at 11:48 a.m.

    Sounds like an indictment of pre-roll to me.

  2. Don Mitchell from Freelance Media Professional, November 13, 2012 at 12:16 p.m.

    I see it more as a function of bandwidth. Just because it plays back on your T1/T3 line at the office doesn't mean it will work so well on my cable modem at home. My own cable provider has told me they switch over from fiber optic to standard coaxial cable about 2 blocks from my house.

  3. Chuck Lantz from, network, November 13, 2012 at 4:49 p.m.

    As one of those viewers with very low tolerance for any delays, I can say that a large part of that intolerance can be traced to the uncertainty of just how long I'll have to wait to get the info I came for. ... If I'm looking for a news item in a newspaper, I have a pretty good idea how long it will take me to find and read the article. With a video clip, who knows how long the opening ad will take, or how long it will take to find the damned elusive "X", or how long the talking head in the actual video will take before getting to the bits I came to hear and see? ... Adding a buffer delay to all that only adds to that uncertainty.

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