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  • Writer's pictureRussell Vilardi

7 Factors That Influence Video Watch Times

Young couple racking up video watch time on their living room TV.

You want viewers to watch your streaming programming from start to finish – but that doesn’t always happen. Short video watch times are the bane of streaming content providers and advertisers on their services.

What can you do to increase video watch times and improve viewer engagement? There are seven key factors that influence how long viewers stream your content, and you need to know how to optimize all of them.

Key Takeaways

  • Not all viewers watch all programs from start to finish.

  • The most effective way to improve watch times is to produce higher-quality content.

  • Viewers also tend to watch live-streamed content for longer than on-demand content.

  • Minimizing ad load also helps to improve watch times.

  • Poor streaming quality, rebuffering, and long startup times negatively impact video watch times.

What is Video Watch Time – and Why is It Important?

Watch time is pretty much the amount of time viewers spend watching a video. It can be measured in either minutes and seconds or as a percent of the total program length. The longer a viewer watches a video, the better. A program with a short watch time suggests viewers turned it off for whatever reason.

When measured as a percentage of total program time, watch time is called the video completion rate. This can further be broken down into program completion rate and ad completion rate. (According to Statista, the average video ad completion rate in 2021 was 78% across all devices – and 97% on connected TVs.)

Regardless of how it’s tracked, video watch time is a measurement of audience retention and engagement. The longer a program retains viewers, the more engaged those viewers become with the program content.

With this in mind, longer watch times are better for all involved parties:

  • For content providers, longer watch times mean viewers get exposed to more advertisements, which lets the streaming service sell more ads and charge higher rates for them.

  • Advertisers who buy ad space in the back half of a program benefit when viewers are still watching when their ads come up.

  • Viewers who watch an entire program get a satisfactory viewing experience, as opposed to tuning out because the experience was less than satisfactory.

In short, it’s to everyone’s benefit to increase video watch times. The question is, how can you do that?

7 Ways to Increase Video Watch Times

What can a streaming video service provider do to increase video watch times? Several factors influence how long viewers watch before switching channels.

1. Create Higher Quality Content

A primary reason people turn away from streaming content is that they simply don’t like it. If your content is boring, repetitive, or poorly made, viewers won’t stick with it.

There is too much quality content in the streaming world today for any viewer to be expected to keep watching something that doesn’t interest them. If you want to keep viewers hooked past the first commercial break, your content has to be engaging and well-made.

2. Go with Live Content Instead of On Demand

Even though on-demand programming has long made up the bulk of streaming content, viewers find live content more engaging. Viewers tend to watch live-streamed programming longer than comparable on-demand programs.

According to Conviva’s State of Streaming report, the average viewer spends 25.4 minutes per live-streaming session versus just 19 minutes per on-demand session.

3. Consider Shorter Programming

Viewer attention spans keep getting shorter. Unless you’re programming a fantasy or superhero epic, viewers simply don’t have the attention span to stay tuned in for three hours or more.

You can keep viewers engaged with shorter programming where they can easily see the light of the end credits at the end of the content tunnel. Viewers are more apt to stay engaged for the whole program if it’s a half-hour or less long.

4. Reduce Ad Load

Advertisers don’t like to hear this, but viewers aren’t big fans of commercials. Yes, more online viewers are opting for ad-supported video-on-demand (AVOD) services these days, but that’s only because they can’t afford high-priced subscriptions to multiple subscription advertising-on-demand (SVOD) services. Viewers will put up with some amount of advertising if it helps lower their monthly streaming bills.

That said, they won’t put up with too many ads. Most AVOD services program fewer ads per hour than traditional broadcast and cable networks, which makes streaming services more appealing. That appeal wanes, however, when streaming services increase the ad load. You can’t force viewers to sit through too many ads in a row – they are highly likely to switch to another channel that isn’t as ad-ridden.

Number of ads that streaming video viewers found reasonable during a show.

5. Improve Audio and Video Quality

Another factor that causes viewers to give up a given program is poor audio and video quality. With HDTV and 4K resolution being the norm, lower-quality standard resolution content will drive viewers away, especially if they’re watching on 65” or larger flatscreen TVs. Viewers are even less tolerant of grainy, tinny-sounding low-bitrate feeds, especially when the major services look and sound so much better. Content providers that fail to optimize the quality of experience drive viewers away to higher-quality services.

How do we define the quality of experience for streaming video?

6. Reduce Rebuffering

There are other quality factors that can negatively impact video watch time. One of the most common and annoying is rebuffering, where playback stutters or pauses due to low bandwidth or other technical issues.

When viewers can’t watch a program without these interruptions, they’ll give up on the program and watch something else. According to our 2021 U.S. Video Streaming Report, 40% of viewers say rebuffering is the top reason they abandon programming midstream.

7. Speed Up Video Startup Times

If it takes too long for a program to start after a viewer presses the “Play” button, that viewer is likely to switch to other content before the program has a chance to load. Startup times of two seconds or more are unacceptable to most viewers and contribute significantly to low watch times and high abandonment rates. The faster your videos can start to play, the more likely your viewers will stick around to watch the program.

Even worse are video start failures, where a video fails to load when the viewer presses “play.” A program that doesn’t start won’t rack up any watch time at all.

Video startup times and video start failures are both getting worse.

One More Way to Improve Video Watch Times: Improve Streaming Quality with Penthera

Content providers are turning to Penthera for innovative solutions to streaming video problems. Penthera’s PlayAssure eliminates rebuffering and improves video quality. Penthera Download helps retain viewers by enabling quick and easy downloads. And 2nd Look improves the quality and effectiveness of streaming advertising, benefiting all parties in the process. When you want to increase video watch times, Penthera has the solutions you need.

Contact Penthera today to learn more about increasing streaming quality and video watch times.


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