Online video fails to engage users

With services like Snapchat, Facebook Live and Instagram providing platforms for video sharing, not to mention the perennial video king in YouTube, various online players are cranking out video pieces left and right. However, despite this push to produce such content, users don’t seem to be quite as excited about consuming the videos.

According to a report from the Nieman Lab‘s Joseph Lichterman, videos engage users much less than any other type of content online. Such information comes as a result of a study conducted by social analytics firm Parse.ly, and the findings suggest long-form stories, which are defined as articles of 1,000 words or more, are the most engaging types of content.

This is important for news organizations to pay attention to. Even though sites like Facebook are actively recruiting media outlets to produce content on the social media platform, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is the best way to engage the audience. Lichterman, citing evidence from a report by fellow Nieman Lab reporter Laura Hazard Owen, suggests the Internet has an excess of this type of content in the face of a nearly 98-percent preference by users to spend their time online with text rather than video:

When it comes to video, other studies have also suggested that the supply of news video outpaces consumer demand.

This means, as Owen writes, video production is being spurred by technology advancements, not requests from users. This doesn’t make a lot of business sense, and it explains why making money off of videos isn’t having a lot of success, especially since the primary method of generating revenue is using pre-roll ads. Viewers don’t like those, according to Owen, but lucky for those viewers, Facebook doesn’t allow pre-roll ads.

So all this effort and talk about online video, which I’ve taken part in on this very site, might be for nothing. I personally don’t like online videos, especially when they autoplay either in my social media feed or when I go to a website expecting to read an article. (The Parse.ly study found this as one of the prime reasons people don’t pay attention to video.) I’m a reader and a writer, so I want to spend my time online reading and writing. Not watching some dumb video.

Of course, there are times when I will seek out video coverage of a breaking news event or point my browser to CBSN, but those are instances where I am wanting the video. When publisher take away that control and force-feed me their videos, it turns me off.

This whole topic gives me pause. I’ve recently been writing about my seeming need to do more video work, especially with my high school journalism students. I still think it is a good skill to teach them, which means I shouldn’t be so resistant to do it, but maybe I need to put more thought into how I am going to do it. Clearly the methods being used in the industry now aren’t ideal. Maybe it’s time for me to get creative.

One bright spot of the Parse.ly study that jumped out at me was how long-form stories were still being read. This goes against some of the conventional wisdom of people only being able to pay attention long enough to read a 140-character tweet. It also presents a possible answer to the question Nicholas Carr posed in The Atlantic when he wrote an article titled, “Is Google Making Us Stupid? What the Internet is doing to our brains.

Stupid? I don’t think so, but the Internet is changing how humans think about and consume media. Perhaps, one day, video will find its way to being a bigger player, but, right now, it isn’t quite there yet in terms of engagement. After all, it is relatively new when compared to the history of the written word.