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Why hardly anyone watches YouTube video at normal speed any more

Image: Generated by Midjourney AI.
2 minute read
Image: Generated by Midjourney AI.

Statistics from YouTube tell us that we might want to rethink how we approach our video edits.

There is now a lot of video content on the web. A lot. Not surprisingly, this means that there are literally millions of videos on various topics, but not enough hours in the day to watch them. Particularly when it comes to tutorial videos, I often just want the video to get on with things instead of having any preamble.

As result, according to YouTube, 85% of its viewers watch videos at faster than realtime, saving over 900 years of video time per day across its platform. Or, according to YouTube, the equivalent of watching PSY’s Gangnam Style 113 million times. A vision of hell that personally, I don't want to entertain the thought of.

YouTube wrote on its blog, "Apart from normal, 1.5x is used the most often, followed by 2x as a close second and 1.25x at third. And for the perfectionists who like custom speeds, 1.1x was the most used speed. Just a little faster, but not too much!"

YouTube's playback speed option has been in existence since 2010, and it does work exceptionally well, with a high quality pitch correction that prevents voices from sounding like chipmunks. It's a feature that users are increasingly using, along with similar functions available on their favourite podcast services, as they try to cram in all of the content they wish to access. If you live a busy life it's easy to see the attraction, and I've been increasingly using it myself, usually at 1.5x.

According to YouTube, viewers habits using the feature change throughout the day. "We found that viewers more often use playback speeds to either speed up or slow down their videos in the evening, with a spike starting around 11pm in their local time.

"Meanwhile, users apparently need their cup of coffee before watching videos at faster speeds. In the morning, starting at 6am, playback speeds weren’t used as often, but users started to dabble with faster speeds as their day progressed."

Apparently 2x speed isn't fast enough either, with the company receiving requests for 3x and even 4x speed options.

Is there too much content?

Speeding up video is a symptom of there being more content available than we know what to do with, and so it does teach us a lesson about the way we make videos. It's a lesson that accounts for the popularity of rivals like TikTok, which serves up content in a very direct, short form. Increasingly, we just want video content to get to the point, particularly if it's a tutorial or otherwise informative. Sure, there will be occasions where we want to kick back and watch a high quality film or documentary, but for most other stuff the trend is to demand the relevant information as quickly as possible.

This will be little comfort to those who edit with care, putting thought into the timing of every cut and piece of sound design. Even with pitch correction, sped up playback is, well, slightly disrespectful to the creator's vision of how their content was intended to be seen. But, this is the world we live in now. I think it's safe to say that we've reached a form of saturation point, and it has perhaps become like a parallel to the scene with Mr Creosote in Monty Python's Meaning of Life, shovelling in video into our minds until we simply cannot fit any more in.

We're at a point where the option to play video at faster than realtime has become a useful tool, something I never would have thought I'd ever say. Whether it's a good thing or a bad thing is entirely subjective and up for debate, but we'd be interested in hearing what you think about the phenomenon in the comments below!

Tags: Technology Production Streaming