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When is enough enough? When it comes to video production, the answer may not be as obvious as you think.

Back in 2010, Psychster did a collaborative study with allrecipes.com to see the effects of video production value on user engagement. The multimedia survey had 6050 respondents. Each person was given a choice between a video about egg boiling, pizza grilling, or poultry brining, and asked to watch the most basic video (production value 1), and then several other videos of scaling production value (values 2-7).

Before we get into the results of the survey, though, let’s look at what each production value:

Psychster chart

Click to expand

As you can see, production values 1 is fairly basic, while production value 7 has all the bells and whistles. All 7 videos feature professional chef talent, a professional voice-over, and professional lighting, camera, sound, and editing. So, with all this in mind, do you think viewer engagement goes up linearly, exponentially (greatly increased engagement with each production increase), or marginally (with diminishing returns)?

Actually…that’s a trick question. If you chose any of those options, you’d be wrong.

Psychster chart 2

Click to expand

The most important graph is in the upper-left (seconds watched = engagement), but the other graphs reveal some interesting results as well.

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Basically:

  1. Production Value 3 was less exciting than Production Value 1

  2. Production Value 5 was generally more engaging than both 6 and 7, and more shareable than 6.

  3. Yet production Value 7 was reported as being the most exciting.

  4. All production values were “overall likable”

While Psychster didn’t draw any earth-shattering conclusions from this data because they were a reputable psychographic segmentation company – we have no such qualms.

Self-reporting has never been a reliable measure of true engagement, so the fact that everyone reported all 7 productions as “overall likable” doesn’t mean anything. “Excitement” ratings are similarly arbitrary and are sort of a leading question. While production value 3 received lower all-around marks than production value 1, that may just be because the “enhanced script” was really not that well-written. It’s impossible to say since we have no idea what the videos look like.

The results from both graphs on the left, however, are very interesting. Both “seconds watched” and “recommended to other” ratings were highest for value 7, but value 5 was practically neck-and-neck. Value 6 was less popular all around.

What does this mean? Well, if we look back at the breakdown, we see that value 6 was different from value 5 only in one way – step by step direction text appeared on the sides of relevant frames rather than above a simple “spoon” graphic at the bottom of the page. This seems to indicate that viewers were simple distracted by directions appearing on both sides of the page. Production value 7 still suffered from this drawback, but also included a recap and suggestions for similar videos, which viewers appreciated.

Perhaps the most interesting result of this study comes from the “egg boiling” results. Egg boiling videos were watched the most out of all 3 video types, and you can see very clearly that production value 5 was highly favored compared to values 6 and 7.

Weird? Maybe not. Simple psychology tells us that “limited marginal returns” are a big part of human nature. A very famous study done in 1979 found that people enjoyed the first dollar they earned much more than they enjoyed the millionth, and lossy video compression works because we tend to be insensitive to minor differences in color and hue.

It could be the case that the particular combination of attributes found in production value 5 are near-optimal for the average viewer, so it’s worth re-listing them:

Production Value 5

  • professional actor

  • professional voiceover

  • professional lighting, camera, sound, editing

  • enhanced script

  • transitions between shots

  • AR branding (at beginning and end of video)

  • Jazzy music

  • step-by-step text on bottom of frames

  • additional video effects (e.g. treatments, elements)

If you make a video with all 9 of these attributes, will it become compulsively watchable? With 6050 respondents, I think it’s safe to say that you’d probably be on the right track to a great video.