• Sarah Price

So, attention spans are actually getting longer!?

How we kept 90% of an audience watching and interacting for nearly five hours straight.

You’ve seen the articles, had the conversation with your boss, and you’ve played the brain training games — modern attention spans are rapidly shrinking! Just last summer, Microsoft conducted controlled experiments on a Canadian audience and their interactions with media on different devices and in different settings. They reported that the human attention span has dropped to just 8 seconds long, below the 9 seconds estimated for the infamously short memory of the goldfish. Social media (looking at you, Tik Tok) is often labelled as the biggest cause of dwindling attention spans, but evidence outside of this single study shows that this concept is simply not true.

Psychologist Dr Gemma Briggs covered this topic with the BBC. While content creators have adapted to become better at capturing our attention as quickly as possible to reel us in and hold us there, this is a response to an oversaturated playing field in media content; they have to fight to keep us watching their video, and not move on to something else. Dr Briggs said that a better rule for expectations of attention span levels would be to remember that “how much attention we apply to a task will vary depending on what the task demand is.”

Evidence of this statement can be seen in everyday life — how else could we be so overstimulated and distracted, and yet so obsessed with binge-watching our favourite shows? If a channel is saturated with content that requires little engagement from its viewers, will they really pay complete attention to it?

Binge-watching has become a regular activity for over two thirds of streaming service users — including Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Disney Plus. As content hooks viewers in, it becomes easier to just let the action continue as they wait for 3… 2… 1… seconds, for the next episode to begin. How many more episodes have you watched, just because it was easier to leave it running on and on than scramble for the remote to turn it off? We think that the answer to improving engagement lies in the content we want our audience to pay attention to.

Quality is crucial. According to a survey carried out by Netflix, people will wait and carve out time in their schedule for a particular show of interest to them or commit an entire evening to watch one episode, after the next, after the next. The content just has to be good enough.

There may be a difference in levels of engagement, depending on the quality of the content, though. It has been an increasing trend in Millennials and Gen Xers in particular that sees half of the audiences consistently multi-tasking on their mobile phones when casually watching TV and films on a larger screen. Endless scrolling continues while weekly episodes of favourite shows run live, and unlimited puzzle games see minds active through TV shows that otherwise, realistically, wouldn’t give cause for much thinking at all.

If we remember from Dr Briggs that demanding more from our audience will increase the amount of attention paid to it, then we need to work to avoid our content becoming passive media, demanding only passive attention. By incorporating active engagement into our content, we think that we can capture our audience’s attention that much more completely. Our leading product Quiz Kit — which allows anyone to host their own live interactive quiz show — offers a solution to this combination of content and engagement conundrum.

In the 2020 Amazon Premier League game-accompanying series on Twitch, we had viewers paying constant, avid attention to our series of tricky football questions. Over the course of a total 5 hours of stream time on Bateson’s channel, including ad breaks, intros, game previews as well as the game, viewers were actively watching and playing along for almost 4.5 hours of that time on average. That’s 90% of the time Bateson was live, and we had thousands of viewers sat at home, actively engaged, giving us their undivided attention and time.

And that’s just one example. We’ve had 92,000 emails given to us after just one hour of quizzing at TennoCon last year. We’ve had 300,000 concurrent players avidly engaging in just one game. In third party shows we’ve had players from countries in the double digits tuning in to shows with the promise of truly audience-engaging fun.

So yes, we do think that attention spans are actually increasing, and perhaps even adapting to a new way of consuming media, and going forwards, we aim to make sure our new tools and formats will increase that stickiness even more.

Please request any further information by emailing our Content Manager at sarahp@codices.io.