April 1, 2024

"Creating a retention edited video requires a lot of work. 'Every clip in the video should be under two seconds,' said Dara Pesheva, a 17-year-old..."

"... who works as a freelance video editor for social media content creators. 'Every 1.3 to 1.5 seconds you have to have a new graphic or something moving, you have to [use] a lot of effects. For every image and every transition, you have to add a sound effect. You need flashing graphics, and you have to have subtitles in every video.' TikTok has trained users to scroll away if they aren’t hooked within the first half-second.... This is why so many retention edited videos start with a loud bang or whoosh sound.... 'People around my age can’t focus,' Pesheva said. 'They have very short attention spans. They’re used to TikTok, and so editors have to adjust for Gen Z. They have to adjust to the fact that people can’t keep their attention on something for more than a second if it’s not entertaining.'"

From "The 'Beastification of YouTube' may be coming to an end/The popularity of so-called retention editing made a generation of creators go viral, but when every video looks the same it’s harder than ever to stand out" (WaPo).

That's funny, when I use TikTok, I scroll away in less than one second if I see that it's edited like that. Nice to know there's a term for that annoying crap, "retention editing." They're trying to retain your attention... or really, trying to obtain it in the first place. But maybe it's not working anymore. ("Beastification," in case you're wondering, refers to a particular YouTube star, Mr. Beast.)

If you don't know what I'm talking about, look at this:

The article tantalizes us with the news that this awful material may be on the way out:
Nick Cicero, who teaches social media and digital marketing at Syracuse University, said... “There’s this overwhelming bubble of a certain type of editing style right now. This is the retention editing period.”... Retention editing, he said, has defined the 2020 to 2024 era, but fatigue eventually sets in.

“Early on, it was very easy to blow up and become a viral hit with [this type of editing], but now it’s a lot harder,” he said. “There are these waves of different trends in editing, or in fine art, or in music, where you have these different styles. Maybe retention editing is like the impressionist period for YouTube.”

Unlike impressionism, however, this style has never been good. It reminds me of late-night TV commercials from the 1970s —  Ginsu knives and Pocket Fisherman — that were always awful though capable of getting your attention and sticking in your brain. Wait there's more... act now... operators are waiting... and if you call in the next 10 minutes.... But those were commercials that we put up with while waiting for the actual show we wanted to watch. Ah, the show was probably awful too back then. If we'd had the option to scroll through TikTok, we'd have preferred it. With that control over our time and ability to indulge our impatience, we'd have contentedly absorbed endless retention edited videos — nothing but bad commercials and material that looks like them.


Enigma said...

Retention editing in the 2020s = MTV music videos between 1983 and 1985.

Rapid jumps do grab attention, but they are indeed distracting, fatiguing, and a novelty that wears off.

What percentage of the market has moved to long form content such as Joe Rogan's 3 to 4 hour marathons?

rehajm said...

Game theory says it usually pays to be contrarian. Why go all in to please the ADDs for a tenth of a second?

…I haven’t seen how popular the latest Shogun is but I’ve heard there’s actual story telling involved, with pacing and suspense building.

Wince said...

I remember when being "retentive" was a bad thing.

RideSpaceMountain said...

By the end of this century, large cohorts of global population won't interact with anyone in real life except if it's online. Every year we make it easier for them to do so.

wild chicken said...

God I hate that. I knew right away what it was. A cheap ass way to make something seem interesting and exciting when it really isn't. It started in our generation but it's really driven younger people mad with adhd.

Same with the multiple plot lines in every movie that they all do now. If you're not interested in this one, here's another, and another...

To think they make good money to fill up all the hours.

BarrySanders20 said...

About the only live TV I watch is sports. I've disliked commercials for decades yet must watch some if I am watching live games, esp if someone else controls the remote and isnt as vigilent as I am about hitting the mute button. Many commercials have revolved into loud video snippet mash-ups that flit about. They must be marketing to these Gen Z low attention span viewers or ADHD sufferers, though I doubt many of them are watching live sports. Amazes me that big companies would pay ad agencies big dollars to come up with crap that is guaranteed to annoy most everyone else.

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...

Interesting. I recall early in MTV's infancy, around late 1981 or early 1982, when my friend in Hollywood (the industry I mean, he actually lived in Glendale then) was discussing with me how TV and motion picture editing were already changing to adapt to how music videos had shortened attention spans. Music videos, of course, predated MTV but exploded in popularity because of it.

Anyway, by this time in 1982 the average edit in commercials had changed from 5-to-7 seconds to just under 3 seconds. Scenes in television shows were also becoming shorter, following the lead of the early adopters in commercial production, who in turn were influenced by MTV. I don't watch enough current programming to know if this TikTok trend is reflective of a wider quickening or leading the trend.

But I find it interesting how roughly a generation later attention time is being halved again. Perhaps there's some version of Moore's Law that applies to human audio-visual processing speed. This would scared the pants off people in the early sixties when such fast edits were associated with subliminal messages and mind control.

That's not ironic at all, is it?

Mike Sylwester said...

I have a six-year-old grandson who spends a lot of time in our home, watching cartoons. I have been surprised to see that many kids' cartoons are now edited in a very fast, chopped-up, interspersed style -- which I now see here might be called "retention video".

In particular, some Spongebob Squarepants cartoons feature this style, which I had never seen in past years.

Temujin said...

"'People around my age can’t focus,' Pesheva said. 'They have very short attention spans."

No one can focus anymore. At least no one who uses the internet a lot, and definitely those who spend time viewing and taking part in social media. We have entire generations of people who cannot look away from their phones to notice an oncoming car. It's rewiring the brain. Dumbing people down.

But then my grandparents used to tell me to not stare at the TV for too long. And I turned out OK. OK. OK. OK. OK. Turned out OK.

Nihimon said...

This reminds me of the scene from Scrooged where Robert Mitchum is describing how they should edit videos to appeal to cats...

Oligonicella said...

That's funny, when I use TikTok, I scroll away in less than one second if I see that it's edited like that.

Same. It's a lazy way to cover up slop. True in the 70's, true now.

Lilly, a dog said...

I just want late-night infomercials to make a comeback.

Magic Bullet to Go: Hazel and Berman

Heartless Aztec said...

Never watched a Tik Tok. No reason to. Two years ago I quit all social media. It took me about a year to retrain myself to the long form art of reading - except that now I read chapters like I watch episodes on TV mini-series. Occasionally I'll have a "binge" afternoon and read 6+ chapters of a book and then revert back to single chapters from other books in my various house libraries. No editing required beyond a great book cover! And books that aren't my grand daughters are silent beyond exclamation points. Tom Wolfe's books are particularly noisy along that vein.

Mr. O. Possum said...

Beastification. Great word.

Should be a verb.

"Trump beasted his opponents."

"Not only will I beat you, I warn you, my friend, I shall beast you."

Good in titles, too..."The Beast Years of Our Lives"

Lilly, a dog said...

Anyone remember Rax and Mr Delicious?

Mr Delicious had a procedure

JAORE said...

Who responds positively to this editing?

I'll bet they have never read 400 books in a lifetime, let alone a year.

Big Mike said...

That's funny, when I use TikTok, I scroll away in less than one second if I see that it's edited like that.

They aren’t editing it for the likes of you, Old Timer.

MadisonMan said...

Those "improved" videos are far too frenetic for me. Overload! Overload!
Makes me wonder how "screens" have re-wired brains if this is what passes for a good idea.
(Old Man Shakes Fist at Cloud)

MadisonMan said...

I do like that a 17-year-old has found freelance work as an video editor. Way to go!

Ann Althouse said...

"Anyone remember Rax and Mr Delicious?"

That was great. Thanks.

Hadn't seen it before.

Randomizer said...

Of the modern trends and WaPo articles, I like this one.

First, a 17 year-old has a job that requires technical skill and is in demand. Good for Dara for making money off of the people who want to be social media influencers.

Second, if that's what it takes to get Gen Z to watch videos on grown-up topics like owning a home, then more power to 'em. At their age, many of us were dicking around doing stupid stuff when we should have been learning that boring stuff.

Third, it's easy to avoid and I don't have to watch it. I'm not fond of TikTok anyway, but a busy video like that would be difficult to stay with. Fortunately, I have the option of going to Youtube or Spotify and watching a long-form video of people talking without a bunch of distractions.

Larry J said...

All is proceeding as Max Headroom predicted in the 1980s. Blipverts will be the death of our young people.


Ice Nine said...

So, then, "War and Peace" is out for these misfits, right?

Steven Wilson said...

Who, besides me, remembers when the Smothers Brothers did "The History of the United States in 60 seconds?" It wowed a lot of people then but I was in a constant state of "Wait, what....?" as it flashed by.

I'm not implying they began or are responsible for it, but I do remember it received considerable adulation at the time. I never understood why.

Will Cate said...

BarrySanders20 said...
About the only live TV I watch is sports.

Same. On the rare occasion we switch on old-fashioned commercial broadcast TV, I am astounded by the insane mashup of 10 and even 5 second commercials ... sometimes a dozen or more without a break. A phenomenon BTW predicted by the NY Times almost 20 years ago.

robother said...

I assume this is related to the stream of flashing commercials that fill every timeout in the March Madness basketball games. Even with a mute button, the sheer number of different ads they now cram in has made me wonder if this will be the last March Madness I watch.

Kevin said...

This generation will never know the beauty of a sunset.

OK that would be funny -- cut a video of a sunset like this so GenZ could "watch" it.

Lem the artificially intelligent said...

It’s creating an empathy gap. Just when we’re going to live longer. Couple that with AI running things and the nightmarish utopia is just around the corner.

Canada is already telling their old people they can do them in if they want.

Two-eyed Jack said...

Art > Entertainment > Distraction > Addiction

Think of each '>' as a mouth consuming the item before it.

Ted Gioia explains it here in an insightful essay:


Birches said...

The cuts are the equivalent to Trump's Biden hog tied video. Hits the perfect vitality spots, just aiming for different generations and I do think both tactics are losing their magic.

Roger Sweeny said...

I watched the edited video without turning my speakers on, and I actually liked the text that kept coming up. It seemed like "bullet points", a way to focus on what was important in the guy's talk.

Achilles said...

WAPO is just mad that someone is doing what they do better than they do it.

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...

I am astounded by the insane mashup of 10 and even 5 second commercials...

So maybe I do share some blame. In the late 1980s I recall how difficult it was to get an (older guy) advertising manager of a radio station in California to break up the time (2-minutes/day for 15 days) I wanted to buy for a client (Primo Pizza) into 5- and 15-second bites divided between a Spicolli-like voice saying, "Mmm-mmm Primo!" and a longer identifier that gave the address, phone and tagline for the craveable pizza place.

Radio was always slow to evolve.

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...

Addendum: By then (the Primo Pizza era) MTV had gone to shit but the quick edits were here to stay. I kinda feel bad for contributing to the trend. Now older me misses slow pacing. Let this stand as my apology to my fellow boomers and people of limited attention everywhere.

tim in vermont said...

I stopped watching the NHL Panthers on their cable network, Bally's because they project ads onto the boards and onto the ice and onto the glass. Then they would add movement to distract your eye from the game you were trying to watch. It's insulting. I only watch the national games now, or the YouTube recaps.

tim in vermont said...

One technique that works and has worked for years is to show a woman for a very short time, and then let the viewer subconsciously fill in the parts that he didn't have time to perceive, and inevitably he will create in his mind an impossibly beautiful woman, designed just for him. According to Scott Adams, and I believe him on this one even if he has many crackpot theories he maybe uses to troll his followers, the mind floats along and what we perceive is a buffered 2/10ths of a second after real-time, where the mind has had time to process the combined intake of our senses.

Fred Drinkwater said...

Back in the 80s when digital video effects were just getting started, I talked to a producer of tv commercials. Even then, he told me the trend was to have an "effect" every 2-3 seconds. Simple stuff in those days, mostly, cuts, zooms, text, sounds. But the trend was strong already.

The 17 year old reminded me of a 16 year old high school friend, c. 1973. He had parlayed his computer programming ability into a job at a couple of local fancy auto dealerships, generating sales contracts. $50/hour. For a kid. In 73. Stunning number. The programming was trivial, but He was a very savvy businessman.

Joe Smith said...

On X, I immediately scroll by or block any video post with 'What do you notice?'

Or worse and more prevalent, 'Wait for it' or 'Wait until the end.'

I get it, they are probably upping their impressions for people who spend more time on the post.

For me it's the death sentence. Fuck off.

Mary Beth said...

Are they still blaming this rapid scene change style of editing on the need to appeal to people who grew up watching Sesame Street? I remember reading an article years ago that said kids watching that had developed shorter attention spans and needed quick video changes to stay engaged.

I hope this is a fad with videos, the way splash pages were for websites around the turn of the century. I hated those, mostly because I still had dial-up and it took forever, but also because they were pointless and just delayed the user being able to see what the website had to offer.

wildswan said...

Are lyric poems anything more than more than a sequences of images flashing by and so somewhat lie TikTok? Take an old time poem like Crossing the Bar by Tennyson.

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.

In the first verse the following images flash by:
Sunset, evening star, one clear call, moaning of the bar, put out to sea. The verse takes 10 seconds to say aloud and about three seconds to read silently. So you could silently read the whole poem in the 15 seconds of a short TikTok video or read it aloud in less than the 60 seconds of a longer one.
Perhaps Gen Z could be slowly, inexorably drawn back into reading by beginning with lyrics, not War and Peace. But I have a feeling that there is some other obstacle, some deeper part of Gen Z sensibility that is in the way. On TiKTok maybe there is an automatic internal captioning related to the algorithm whereas blind reading - "well, what am I getting here? People used to study so they knew literary history aka "what's this?"

Mason G said...

"Canada is already telling their old people they can do them in if they want."

How long do you suppose it'll be before they're not given a chance?

Mason G said...

"Then they would add movement to distract your eye from the game you were trying to watch."

This pisses me off to no end. I want to watch the $%^&# game, not a bunch of dancing ads.

PM said...


JK Brown said...

Is that what's going on. I've found myself passing, even clicking the not recommend this channel on such videos, or clickbait titles.

I was just thinking the other night how my early training with TV in the 1970s means I can hear/see one of the commercials on youtube, but not hear/see it. It's just a pause when you let your mind do something else before coming back.

BTW, with all the angst over Tik Tok, social media, television in the past, the radio in the early '60s, we should remember the OG bad influence on young people was books, novels in particular.

"Goethe’s novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther, was blamed for a spate of suicides during the ‘reading fever’ of the 1700s."

mikee said...

Yet Idiocracy predicts that in 300 years the most popular movie will be a 90 minutes long continuous shot with no edits of a naked male ass. I refuse to believe that this documentary could be wrong about this trend in viewership, when everything else it has predicted is already verified as true.

Ann Althouse said...

“Yet Idiocracy predicts that in 300 years the most popular movie will be a 90 minutes long continuous shot with no edits of a naked male ass.”

Andy Warhol already did it.


Joe Bar said...

Wow. That IS annoying.

Before watching it, I thought it was something I hate even more- short videos that cut off in the middle of some procedure or operation that I wish to see to the finish. Many times, here is no way to find the end short.

Freeman Hunt said...

When our kids were younger we did not allow them to watch any media edited in this style.