When you put videos out in the world, you want them to be seen. And for online videos, you have seconds, maybe just milliseconds, to grab a viewer’s attention and get them to watch — not only the opening moments, but hopefully your whole video. One of the most common pitfalls we see is starting a video with opening logos and credits. In our short attention span culture, they are a major turn-off.
Play counts can be misleading.
You want lots of people to actually watch your film, episode, or marketing video. And when I say “watch,” I don’t mean get a big play count, as most video platforms count a play even if the viewer didn’t watch most of the video. Facebook counts a play when a silent auto-playing video has been on screen for just three seconds. Snapchat counts a play the instant a video hits the screen, even if you skip it immediately.
On Vimeo, we only autoplay videos when we are confident a user wants to start watching, so Vimeo’s play counts tend to reflect people’s deliberate interest in watching your videos. Still, if you’re monitoring your Video Report in Advanced Stats you’ll see that few people make it to the very end of your videos, and a lot even drop off in the first few seconds. That trend is natural — but there are actions you can take to seriously change those numbers!
A lot of people fall off quickly at the start of the video, and few stay to watch the end credits.
Many filmmakers make a huge mistake by starting their film slowly — often with tons of time spent on a black screen or logos and credits — thinking it’s nice to ease the viewer in. While this approach may work at a film festival screening where everyone is sitting and waiting for your film, it unfortunately does not work online.
Here’s a documentary that I made a few years ago that premiered at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA). You have to wait 22 seconds before you see the first shot of the film. While that intrigue worked for a festival audience, on Vimeo a lot of people give up before they see a single frame of my movie.
With 22 seconds of black screen, at what point do you stop watching?
The lesson to learn is that even if you get a viewer to click play deliberately, in today’s hypermedia environment, you have to act fast to grab someone’s attention before they get bored or distracted. The first few seconds of any online video need to be immediately arresting: you want to grab hold of my eyeballs and fix my gaze so hard into your video that I ignore all the interesting stuff going on in the outside world.
The right way to get it started
Here are a few great examples of videos that are doing this right.
In this documentary, the opening shot captures my attention through a collision of nostalgia and intrigue. I’m excited to see a cassette player that reminds me of my youth, and also I’m immediately curious what the “question” is going to be.
This animation snags me immediately through strong imagery and an overlaid title. It doesn’t waste any time with black screens.
This video also does a nice job of hooking me. It opens with a striking image that triggers my imagination, and then on-screen text teases a discovery that I now want to learn about.
If you have a series, it’s also important not to start every episode with the same sequence. I like how in The Impossibilities web series, each episode starts with a different magic trick. I’m immediately captivated by the mystery of magic, and then I get drawn into the story.
What about end credits?
When you are deciding whether to watch a video, there are a bunch of calculations going on in your mind (whether you’re conscious of them or not), and duration is typically one of the factors. You may have a limited amount of time, or it may just seem too daunting to invest in a longer video.
End credits make a video’s runtime longer than it needs to be — and they have a bigger proportional impact on the duration of short films. Since the vast majority of people won’t actually read your credits (except maybe your mom, your Kickstarter backers, and Jeannie), you can just list your credits on your website, and link to it from the video outro and description. So you’re still giving credit where it’s due, without negatively impacting engagement.
The following thumbnails from some of my favorite Staff Picks all show a runtime that includes opening and closing credits, making each video look 15%-30% longer than they need to.
Just as $99 feels cheaper than $100, if you show a runtime of 11 minutes while your movie is actually 9 minutes, then you’ll get fewer people taking the plunge.
What if your contract requires certain credits?
You may have a contractual obligation to show funder logos and/or key credits before or after your film. I have a few tips:
- Re-negotiate your deal so that there’s an exception for online use. You should be able to explain to your funders that it’s better for people to actually see the film than to turn off viewers with a series of logos before the video starts.
- If you really need to include some logos and credits, then find a way to subtly overlay them on top of the starting shots of your film, or show them at the end. And find a way to make them interesting (like in this Young Thug video).
- For the online version of your film, make the credits scroll a lot faster (hey, it works on TV!).
Taking my own medicine
Here’s how I’ve shaved a minute off the runtime of my film, and as a consequence, I’ve given it a much more engaging opening. You’ll see I’ve linked to the full credits in the outro and the description — so everyone gets their proper shout out — and I’ve incorporated my contractually obliged funder logos into a single end card.
Is this version more engaging than the one above?
There are tons of insanely clever and inspiring examples out there, too. If you’ve seen other great videos on Vimeo that are instantly engaging or have interesting approaches to credits, please share in the comments.