Monday, 24 November 2014

Taylor Swift Blank Space Unbelievable 94% Audience Retention for a Music Video while being almost perfect to learn from

edit 3 sep 15, video now at 1.1 billion views at 3.16/4.32 = 72%

Now all the Taylor Swift Blank Space hype has died down a bit, I'm finally able to unfry my brain and write this post.

Call it what you will, but if you get caught up with a #swifty experience you have some great fun, some laughs, enjoy the many moments and wake up singing the darn tune (yes, that last bit def happened to me).

It seems with Blank Space, Taylor has made the almost perfect video to study YouTube Audience
Retention and Average View Duration.

I had no grand plan for this, I stumbled across the data by accident on 15 November then tracked it ever since. At that point the views were at 36 million, average view at 4:14 which was 93.4%.

I was like wow, what's going on here - so I stopped writing two other blog posts and got to work.

This page you're reading is a learning resource, albeit a mini case study that delves into the elements of the video like: what you see on screen, the audio and music you hear, how the video is made like the skillful transitions and why most people cannot stop watching all of it.

This post is not a showbiz article, so if that's what you want - stop reading and go somewhere else.

But, if you do stay and I hope you do, you'll definitely learn something. I would say mostly how to watch a video, how to evaluate it and how to think about making a good video of your own.

The phrase I want to work in here is, faster than real life. You'll see why later..

Coming up, you will learn
  • Audience Retention for Blank Space peaked at a whopping 94%
  • There are 153 clips that make up the music video
  • Each clip has an average duration of 1.538 secs
  • On looking at Taylor's VEVO Channel, audience retention is 59%  
  • Taylor's video Everything, has the second highest retention of  80%

clips 1 to 4 on timeline
Let's get started and follow this through from the upload on 10 November 2014 to today 24 Nov (regular readers will now I update posts like this, that's why I date parts of it).

I've made three post on this topic already, if you are new do some catching up - this post will still be here.

Audience Retention and Average View Duration. YouTube is brilliant at throwing a lot of data our way (if the account holder makes it public).

As a start point, the entire video is 4:32 in length, with the music track element running from 0:00 to 3:54. From 3:55 to 4:33, there are few clips showing the App experience. For those people who have not seen the video, then watch it a few times and come back here.


Here's where it gets interesting - the average view duration right now is 4:09/4:32 = 92%. At 60

million views, it was 4:15 = 94%

To get a 94% average, parts of the video must have been watched at higher than 100%. Or a severe drop off at near the end of the video. Anyone looking at sitting exams knows this, you work all year at 70%, then one paper slips in at 62% and your average on getting that elusive first is null and void (if you need it see average at wiki).

As the music element ends at 3:54 (86%), we may expect the average view to stop there - ok fair enough it doesn't. There's no point in saying how fantastic that is, until we look at some other examples.

There are two places to look - Taylor Swift at VEVO and some other high level Music Videos at Youtube.

Taylor VEVO has 68 videos, I have data on 35 of those (if a video is about two years old, there is no average view data).

Table 1 shows an average view of 2:07, average upload length of 3:34 and an 59% Audience Retention. Everything, which is the 8th most watched video on the channel has 80% -- making Blank Space all the more special as it has 92-94%. Shake it Off has 77% (270m views).

153 clips on a video timeline
On googling the most watched music videos, we see  - Miley's Wrecking Ball with 2:46/3:41 = 75%. Katy Perry's Roar 70% and Dark Horse 78% (both with about 700m views each). There is a top ten too.

At this stage, if we vaguely agree the Blank Space is looking high at 94%, then let's see what elements we have and what made the audience stick around.

A super easy way, simply watch the video a few times and think about what you remember. The media picked up on that lovely sport cars being hit with a golf club or how Taylor cuts the nipples out of a shirt.

The Deconstruct is a way to break down any video into it's component parts. In this case, I've loaded the mp4 into a video editor and patiently added markers. Another way is to watch the video and count how many clips or transitions there are.

Remember, this post is written as a learning tool for wannabe singers, videographers and people interested in making something truly special. I will add, I feel quite dirty having to break down a work of art and peek behind the scenes - but we all do this, otherwise I'm not sure we would achieve anything new.


There are 153 clips (or scenes) from 0:00 to 3:54 (see Table 2 below). The average clip length is

1.538 seconds, where the first third of the video, we have 1.795, second third as 1.731 and the last third of 1.089.

This shows, in the classic storytelling model, that shorter clips near the end add to the tension and the climax. Remember any writer knows, long sentences are romantic while short sharp sentences add suspense. The same is true of video making - especially when telling a story from multiple camera viewpoints appearing to be faster than real life.

Here's a chart on that, we can see how the clips appear as a set of rolling hills. In case you're wondering the two longest clips (48 and 49) are when Taylor is happiest hanging a picture and carving names on a tree.

silky transitions
While the shortest set of clips are when Boys only want love if it's torture, Don't say I didn't say I didn't warn you (from 3:00) and just before the infamous golf club comes out.

Let me highlight a few more golden moments in the editing. The lead slide in this post has six iconic images. The first is Taylor wearing an oversized 1920s headband while sat on a bed holding a cat - this is one image that cements the video for me (at 0:08).

The second image shows happiness (at 1:16), with Taylor running - it's only on screen for 2 secs. When the phone is cheekily help over the water, that image is on screen for just 0.52 secs - we hardly see it at all, just enough to see the smile and the wave (2:15).

For an effective transition at 0:25, Taylor is looking to the left with an outstretched arm, we see Sean looking back, then Taylor again sat at the other end of the table - notice how the frames match (I have the slide and mix here).

A sharp eye will also notice how the camera rarely moves. If it does move, it's not that much - there just isn't the time. Each frame is a work of art in itself, you don't have to have a big budget to achieve this, rather a clear vision and some tough timing with discipline. In any writing or video making, just ensure you have more than you need and don't be scared to hit the delete key.

Conclusion You will have looked at some data and merged that with some qualitative hunches you may already have. The reason I've spent this amount of time on just one video, is not as it's had lots of views, but as the video has retained a very high percentage of it's audience. So, the big question - do we have enough evidence to reach a balanced conclusion? Of course the video is only fourteen days old, so the more data will emerge. 

How I watch most videos at youtube I use the brilliant Chrome extension: Video Speed Controller (built by Google's +Ilya Grigorik) . That allows any video to increase or decrease in speed (using the keyboard or mouse, of course many youtube players allow this too). I always watch videos at about x1.6, so a 5.00 minute upload I can watch in 3.12 .. 

With Blank Space, I have never sped up, got bored or distracted - the video appears to run at breakneck speed, much faster than real life. It uses a high number of clips (39 a minute), even if you mute the speakers, the video is still easily watchable - it tells a story.

As always, let's talk - for my next posts I have more of the same on this topic. earlier today, I saw some baloney posted claiming Minecraft had views of billions and took me no time at all to see 7% audience retention.

Here are a few videos, for fans like +Christina Warren - this is a must ..

Playlist 1, Blank Space 2, Taylor at BBC #die #ripme 3, Swiftamine 4 Shake it off



Table 1 - Taylor Swift VEVO Average View Duration for 35 videos

TitleViewsAverage ViewTotal timeaverage/ totalPercentage
blank space (no13)85,635,54104:0904:320.9291.5
shake 82.6m01:5503:400.5252.3
shake 71.7m02:0504:120.5049.6
shake 61.2m02:1003:390.5959.4
shake 52.9m02:2003:590.5958.6
shake 42.5m02:0203:570.5151.5
shake 31.9m02:3004:000.6362.5
shake 13.9m02:0103:510.5252.4
shake 23.5m01:5403:430.5151.1
shake it off (no2)270m03:0504:010.7776.8
Red AMAs1m01:1503:200.3837.5
Artist of0.707m00:3100:440.7070.5
Fav CA Fem0.492m00:2500:350.7171.4
Fav CA Alb0.391m00:2500:350.7171.4
The Last9.8m02:4003:470.7070.5
Red (no20)41m02:4504:010.6868.5
Everything (no8)90m03:2104:120.8079.8
22 (no5)193m02:5204:030.7170.8
I knew you (no4)200m03:4505:580.6362.8
Red Carpet Int0.940m01:0602:040.5353.2
We are Live5.8m02:1203:240.6564.7
You belong Live2.5m02:2103:530.6160.5
Red Live9m02:1803:470.6160.8
Begin Live1.6m02:3604:080.6362.9
Mean Live1.4m02:4304:120.6564.7
Love Live2m02:3104:030.6262.1
Pt 7 Love0.8m02:0104:300.4544.8
Pt 6 Love0.6m02:1304:160.5252.0
Pt 5 Love1.5m01:4904:140.4342.9
Pt 4 Love0.5m01:0903:080.3736.7
Pt 3 Love0.6m01:0502:200.4646.4
Pt 2 Love0.6m01:1802:420.4848.1
Pt 1 Love3.3m00:4602:130.3534.6
Begin Again55m03:0004:100.7272.0
Back to3.4m02:5705:110.5756.9
We are never247mno data03:35no datano data
We are n lyric32mno data03:15no datano data
average2:073:340.5959%
count35

Table 2 - Blank Space, Average Clip length and lyric timeline

Time clip startsCliplength in secsTaylor Swift "Blank Space" lyrics
0.00013.000
3.00023.200
6.20031.800
8.00041.760[Verse 1]
9.76050.8800.08Nice to meet you
10.64061.640
12.28071.160Where you been?
13.44080.800
14.24090.640I could show you incredible things
14.880101.360
16.240111.720Magic, madness, heaven, sin
17.960121.240
19.200131.400Saw you there and I thought oh my god
20.600142.480
23.080152.000Look at that face, you look like my next mistake
25.080162.000
27.080171.3200.27Love's a game, wanna play
28.400182.8400.28New money, suit and tie
31.240191.680I can read you like a magazine
32.920201.320Ain't it funny rumors fly
34.240210.760And I know you heard about me
35.000221.560So hey, let's be friends
36.560231.040I'm dying to see how this one ends
37.600241.280Grab your passport and my hand
38.880250.960
39.840263.000
42.840272.680
45.520282.8000.47I could make the bad guys good for a weekend
48.320292.7200.48So it's gonna be forever
51.040302.280
53.320311.000Or it's gonna go down in flames
54.320321.040You can tell me when it's over
55.360331.560If the high was worth the pain
56.920341.520Got a long list of ex-lovers
58.440351.360They'll tell you I'm insane
59.800360.840Cause you know I love the players
60.640371.040
61.680381.200
62.880391.160
64.040401.000
65.040411.240
66.280421.8801.07And you love the game
68.160432.5601.08Cause we're young and we're reckless
70.720442.680We'll take this way too far
73.400451.240It'll leave you breathless
74.640461.480Or with a nasty scar
76.120472.040Got a long list of ex-lovers
78.160484.840They'll tell you I'm insane
83.000495.400But I got a blank space baby
88.400501.8001.28And I'll write your name
90.200511.320
91.520521.520
93.040531.7601.33Cherry lips
94.800541.360
96.160552.320Crystal skies
98.480562.360I could show you incredible things
100.840571.200Stolen kisses, pretty lies
102.040581.320You're the king baby I'm your queen
103.360592.280Find out what you want
105.640602.440Be that girl for a month
108.080614.640But the worst is yet to come
112.720621.960Oh no
114.680630.720Screaming, crying, perfect storms
115.400642.840I could make all the tables turn
118.240651.760Rose garden filled with thorns
120.000663.080Keep you second guessing like oh my god
123.080671.080Who is she? I get drunk on jealousy
124.160681.320But you'll come back each time you leave
125.480692.280
127.760700.960
128.720711.240
129.960723.560Cause darling I'm a nightmare dressed like a daydream
133.520731.7202.13So it's gonna be forever
135.240740.520Or it's gonna go down in flames
135.760750.760You can tell me when it's over
136.520761.440If the high was worth the pain
137.960771.120Got a long list of ex-lovers
139.080780.840They'll tell you I'm insane
139.920791.320Cause you know I love the players
141.240800.800
142.040811.320
143.360821.960
145.320832.880
148.200842.680
150.880852.8002.32And you love the game
153.680862.3602.33Cause we're young and we're reckless
156.040871.640We'll take this way too far and leave you breathless
157.680881.800Or with a nasty scar
159.480890.880Got a long list of ex-lovers
160.360902.320They'll tell you I'm insane
162.680912.280But I got a blank space baby
164.960921.280
166.240931.080
167.320941.120
168.440952.760
171.200961.5202.52And I'll write your name
172.720972.4802.53Boys only want love if it's torture
175.200981.160
176.360990.680
177.0401000.480
177.5201011.200
178.7201021.080Don't say I didn't say I didn't warn you
179.8001030.760
180.5601040.640
181.2001051.120
182.3201060.640
182.9601070.800
183.7601080.600Boys only want love if it's torture
184.3601090.720
185.0801101.160
186.2401110.600
186.8401120.440
187.2801130.520
187.8001140.840
188.6401151.320
189.9601160.640
190.6001170.840
191.4401180.640
192.0801191.0803.12Don't say I didn't say I didn't warn you
193.1601202.1203.13So it's gonna be forever
195.2801211.080
196.3601221.120
197.4801231.720
199.2001240.920Or it's gonna go down in flames
200.1201251.120You can tell me when it's over
201.2401261.800If the high was worth the pain
203.0401270.520Got a long list of ex-lovers
203.5601281.000They'll tell you I'm insane
204.5601291.280Cause you know I love the players
205.8401302.720
208.5601312.440
211.0001321.080
212.0801331.4003.32And you love the game
213.4801340.8003.33Cause we're young and we're reckless
214.2801350.760
215.0401360.960
216.0001370.760We'll take this way too far and leave you breathless
216.7601380.760
217.5201390.800
218.3201401.120
219.4401411.440
220.8801421.800Or with a nasty scar
222.6801431.600Got a long list of ex-lovers
224.2801441.480
225.7601451.120
226.8801461.280They'll tell you I'm insane
228.1601470.960
229.1201480.760
229.8801490.960But I got a blank space baby
230.8401500.920
231.7601510.920
232.6801521.640And I'll write your name
234.3201531.000black slide
235.3201.538average3 m 54 s 8 f

Refs
https://www.youtube.com/user/TaylorSwiftVEVO/videos (Most Viewed sort)
http://vidstatsx.com/TaylorSwiftVEVO/youtube-channel (68 videos)

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