— Patrick Weibel (@Weibart) May 6, 2016
The human brain can process an image in just a few milliseconds, so the right picture can spark someone’s interest and convince a viewer it’s worth exploring a new show in a single glance. Which is why, in 2014, Netflix began gathering consumer research specifically about the images on its service.
The research indicated that looking at images not only prompted users to watch content, but accounted for a whopping 82% of their time spent browsing (as opposed to, say, reading movie titles or descriptions). In other words, the images mattered almost four times more than the text describing the storyline. Members also spent only 1.8 seconds considering each title. “We know that if you don’t capture a member’s attention within 90 seconds, he or she will likely lose interest and move on to another activity,” says Nick Nelson, Netflix’s global manager for creative services. “Images become the most efficient and compelling way to help them discover the perfect title as quickly as possible.”
Netflix’s data reveals some interesting takeaways about why people watch one thing over another, but more broadly, may be applicable to anyone looking to hook readers, viewers, or buyers with compelling imagery.
Netflix’s takeaways are pretty interesting:
- Depict Three Characters or Less: “One of Netflix’s earliest findings was that interest tended to drop off when an image touting a show or movie contained more than three people. It seems that users find it hard to focus when there are too many people, and may not be able to absorb cues about the storyline.”
- Complex Emotions Make Us Stop & Linger: Scientists have known for a long time that humans are hardwired to respond to faces: Studies have found that infants process faces long before they are able to recognize other objects. However, one interesting thing that Netflix discovered is that people tend to focus more on images of people displaying complicated expressions over stoic or benign ones. These highly emotive images are able to quickly and effectively convey subtle details about the show or movie, drawing users into the storyline and prompting them to watch it.
- Polarizing Villains Demand Atention: Just like complex emotions are more likely to capture our attention, images of polarizing characters also tend to grab our attention. Netflix found that members responded better to recognizable villainous characters over pictures of the hero. They found this to be true in the kids’ genre, as well as for action shows and movies.
The fourth takeaway noted in the article isn’t so notable to me. If you’re interested what #4 is, click here to find out.
The art of the thumbnail image in today’s age is here to stay!