Audience Retention – how crucial is it?


Pay Attention

I know I bang on about “audience retention” far, far too much, but this week I got the opportunity to interview a man who, in my opinion, is the man who created one of my favourite ‘sticky’ (keeps the audience glued) film to date.

Do you remember this (or a similar film):


The Invisible Gorilla

The film was published as part of a study by Professor Daniel Simons and his colleague Christopher Chabris about “inattentional blindness”.


The study itself was published in 1999 and it started garnering some attention in the two years after that. It got some media coverage in 2000 (some television, some print). When I moved to the University of Illinois in 2002, I had it hosted on my lab website at the Beckman Institute here. So, it has been online for at least a decade now, well before YouTube was prominent“. Professor Simons


Early Viral

Back in the early 2000′s, when Major Capital Venture firms were only just putting money into Google, there were, according to the BBC, only 25,675,581 websites online in comparison to the 366,848,493 recorded by Netcraft in Dec 2011. Amazingly about a fifth of US households in 2003 did not have internet access. Even at this early stage of internet development and before the wave of ‘sharing’ really kicked in, this film had a big impact.


In 2003, that study and some of my other work was featured on NBC Dateline, and that was the point when it really took off in public circles (it was already fairly well known within my field). At that time, News Magazine shows like Dateline still had huge viewership. I believe our website was taking more than 10k hits an hour that night, which was a lot for that time. So, yes, it was an early viral video“.


Since the unprecedented success of this film Professor Simons has uploaded it to Youtube and continued with his studies. Here’s a more recent experiment – see if you can spot the gorilla – stick with it!


Rules of Engagement

This is one of the best examples of an engaging film that I have seen to date. Not only is the viewer invited to engage with the film initially (by being challenged to complete a reletively easy task), but then re-invited to engage to see that they have been tricked. This is a film that incorporates concentration with humour and also tricks the viewer. As Professor Simons explains:


In my view, the “gorilla” video is effective because it forces people to confront their mistaken intuitions about what they would notice. People think they would notice something unexpected, and only when they are faced with something huge that they missed will they re-evaluate that intuition.


And it’s due to this that we don’t trust the narrator. We feel that we have been tricked. The viewer thinks:

‘Hang on, I can’t be that unperceptive the first film I saw had to be a trick’. So, then the viewer then re-engages with the film. It’s genius.

The ‘Absolute Audience Retention’ graph for this film would probably look similar to this:

Dream on.

The idea of encouraging engagement and sharing may seem like a new concept to some of us, only brought about by Youtube and other recent sharing sites – but it’s an idea that pre-dates Youtube and gives us an interesting insight to our psyche.

So what’s the point I’m making?


High ‘Audience Retention’ dramatically increases the chances your film will be shared on YouTube or another platform.


People want to share things they got personal value from, whether being tricked by a film and not believing it, to how to videos, to adverts they liked.

If you’d like to lose an hour or two then I’d strongly advise you to visit:

The Invisible Gorilla Website and Youtube Channel 

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