Calibrating Your Audience on YouTube

Written by on Friday, December 7, 2012

Why is it that when we watch E.T. we never stop and think that this could never happen in real life? The entire story is completely unrealistic. It’s because we have, in the very first minutes of the film, been calibrated to think that this film exists in a world where huge alien spaceships are real.

In one of my previous posts I talked about the first 15 seconds of your online video. The opening of your video is the critical moment when you either grab the attention of your audience or risk losing it altogether. But it is also the moment where you need to calibrate your audience into the right frame of mind for your video. When we watch a video on YouTube we are constantly calibrating the point of view of which we experience this material more or less subconsciously. What are we watching, where are we watching it, for who is it made, are we watching factual or news related content? It it going to be entertaining or illuminating or both? These are all questions the very first seconds of your video needs to answer.

When making commercial content entertainment value is key. People generally don’t watch commercials for fun, so the first seconds of the video should give them a promise of entertainment. Opening titles in YouTube videos are in most cases unnecessary because they only prolong the opening of the video. However there are some cases in which they are needed. For example the “Canada Shared by Canadians” video in which the opening titles explain that the video will features content shot by “ordinary” Canadians and not profesional photographers. We understand that the material is going to be amateur material so we are not bothered by the quality of the image.

Calibrating the audience for YouTube means making them understand that the story is not necessarily limited to the video they are watching. A story can go beyond a video and reach across an entire channel. The Verge, which is a YouTube partner channel, uses customized thumbnails which calibrates the audience even before the actual video starts. The Verge produces many different categories of videos and use thumbnails to separate them visually from each other.

Viral videos are perhaps an exception to this rule. In fact, most viral videos rely on the fact that the viewer should be calibrated as little as possible and the key element in the video is the surprise in seeing something unexpected. T-Mobile made a great viral video at Heathrow airport in which they not only surprise the people at the airport, they also surprise the viewer. In the beginning of this classic video from 2010 no other information is given other than date and place.