It will come as no surprise to anyone, that slow buffering of a video is highly likely to see viewers give up, and go and do something less boring instead.
Think about all the hours you've wasted staring at a progress bar. A few seconds here, a few seconds there, you've probably lost months of your life.
As content consumers, we can find delays unacceptable, we certainly find them both irritating and frustrating; I take a very dim view of a company that makes me wait for content, even if it's no longer than it takes to grab a sip of coffee. A slow buffering video, jerkily streamed audio feed or even an image heavy site is enough to have me swearing at the screen.
The continuing rise of the mobile web seems likely to exacerbate the problem. If that 200Mb video takes a while to buffer on a cable connection, how long will viewers streaming over 3G on their morning commute have to wait?
A new study by Ramesh Sitaraman, of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Shunmuga Krishnan, of Akamai finds that the exact amount of time before viewers begin to abandon online video as a result of buffering is two seconds. After two seconds, the abandonment rate is reported to increase at roughly 5.8% per-second; meaning that after eleven seconds you will have lost over half your audience.
Sitaraman and Krishnan's study goes on to compare the types of connection more likely to lead to abandonment. What makes this study interesting is that they are able to confirm that the faster the user's internet connection, the faster that user will abandon a buffering video; fiber optic connections abandon at a far faster rate than cable and DSL, users on mobile connections are far more patient than expected; over half of a mobile audience will remain after thirty seconds of buffering.
A two second delay on a fiber optic connection is proportionately greater than a two second delay on a mobile 3G connection. The rate of abandonment is therefore based on viewer's expectations. What this study demonstrates, is the notion of personal tolerance levels for internet failings. Mobile users will continue to be patient, while the whole of their experience is slow.
Our task then, as content producers, is not to deliver media within a certain time frame, but to establish our viewers' expectations and deliver within those bounds. To paraphrase an old joke, if you and your friend are being chased by a lion, you don't need to outrun the lion, you just need to outrun your friend.
Are you patient with download speeds? Does your tolerance for delays increase on mobile devices? Let us know in the comments below.
Featured image/thumbnail, lion running image via Shutterstock
Ben Moss has designed and coded work for award-winning startups, and global names including IBM, UBS, and the FBI. When he’s not in front of a screen he’s probably out trail-running.