Attention spans. They’re getting shor… what’s that thing over there?

If you haven’t seen the classic 1976 John Carpenter movie “Assault On Precinct 13” since, say, the late 1980’s, and you remember it as a rip-roaring, tension-filled action fest, here’s an experiment to test how attention spans have changed in the Internet age. Try sitting through it again. You may find that it seems strangely… slow. If that’s the case, congratulations: your neurons have been altered by the massive increase in information they’re required to process these days. You’ll often get the same effect watching TV dramas from the 1970’s and 80’s; the editing seems a bit sluggish, and everything feels drawn out to almost impossible lengths.


The challenge for video production companies today is finding a way to get over all the information you want to communicate, while holding the interest of your audience. YouTube and other video sites allow you to analyse how your videos are coping with this challenge, by showing you how long people are sticking with them. So how do you work out how long your videos should be?

Quick Decisions

On average, and perhaps somewhat obviously, short videos (by which we mean up to 30 seconds long) have the best chance of being seen in their entirety. Once you go above 10 minutes, less than half your audience will get through 5 whole minutes. However, it seems that the decision of whether to watch the whole thing is made fairly quickly; for videos of 4 minutes and above, there’s a sharp drop-off very early on, as people decide almost immediately whether your video is going to be worth watching.

Holding Attention

There are several things you can take away from these basic ideas. Firstly, producing an engaging, unique video with arresting content is essential. Shoddy looking videos, or videos that don’t play smoothly or include poor quality sound, will lose you viewers very quickly. Secondly, on the assumption that you are inevitably going to lose some people, putting important information in the first 30 seconds may be a useful strategy. Thirdly, a call-to-action at the end of a longer video should be arrived at as directly as possible; if people think “well, I’ve seen what I need to see” and move on before they get there, a lot of your message is lost.

Know Your Audience

There’s not a lot you can do about the fact that, whatever length your video is, you’re going to lose people. But you can use the knowledge that many of them are leaving early to your advantage. Shorter videos are more likely to be seen all the way through by a higher percentage of people, but (since an audience knows how long your video is), longer videos can still be appropriate; people who invest their time in watching the first half will often watch to the end. A video can be too short; for example, 30 seconds may not be enough time to generate sufficient interest for a video to be shared.

Video production is, or should be, about both unique, engaging content, and the science of holding an audience’s attention. At Spark Engine we have the experience, and the understanding of how video works in the real world, to take your project from the back of an envelope to the finished product. Give us a call today.