Video is taking over the web, with a few exceptions

A German version of this article can be found here.

Nowadays, a few seconds on Facebook or Twitter are usually enough to end up staring at a self-starting video clip. Often, a minute later, one is still (and against the initial plan) watching. More than 8 billion videos views are generated on Facebook daily. To accelerate video growth, both Facebook and Twitter are now betting on live broadcasting video. Snapchat, albeit much smaller than Facebook in regards to the total number of users, also says it serves 8 billion views a day, meaning that videos are playing an even more crucial role for the Snapchat experience. Procrastinating with YouTube videos has been the default mode for people all around the world for years. Instagram also is stepping up its video game, enabling users (and advertisers) to upload longer videos. And even the social media darling Buzzfeed, which initially thrived thanks to the “listicle” article format, nowadays has its own video app.

The direction could not be more clear: Video is where every social media giant sees its near future. For several reasons:

  • Increased video consumption means increased time spent on a platform, which also means more opportunities to serve ads. That’s why pushing video is a no-brainer for the leading social media services. To some extend it also has become a necessity in order to not lose eyeballs and user time spent to competitors.
  • Users love to watch videos. In many ways, the experience of consuming videos is superior to other media types. Just compare watching a Snapchat story consisting of videos to one with only photos. Worlds apart.
  • Lower infrastructure costs, better smartphones, faster Internet speeds and less restrictive data caps remove previously existing obstacles for serving and streaming videos.

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Here is a not so bold assumption: For the majority of users and the majority of use cases, videos are considered a more rewarding, more pleasant and more powerful experience than photos. Thus things are not looking good for sites and services that still heavily rely on static visual media. Despite recent enhancements, Instagram still predominantly feels like a photo-centric app, which puts it at risk to suddenly appear very old fashioned. Only 37 % of active Instagram users said they have recently watched a video on Instagram, according to the Global Web Index. Maybe that’s part of the explanation for why U.S. teens now prefer Snapchat over Instagram. The same risk of becoming dusty exists for Pinterest. Even messaging apps that haven’t incorporated smooth ways of recording and sharing videos are in the danger zone.

Aside from some remaining technological or logistical limitations, there are a few scenarios in which videos are not the ideal media type:

  • When the consumer wants/is desired to decide about the pace with which he/she consumes information (a better alternative: text).
  • When the consumer is not able or willing to look at a display (a better alternative: audio).
  • When a certain piece of visual information is so simple and trivial that producing/presenting/consuming a video is waste of time, e.g. a factual photo accompanying a brief news article.
  • When artistic or craft-related characteristics are at the core of the experience (e.g. professional photographing, all kinds of art work, illustrations for other types of media work).

Here is my conclusion for 2016: Apps and services that are in the business of creating or distributing media have to either target some of these scenarios, or they’ll have to double down on video.

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