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For a brief time my Youtube channel had a little Intro to build some branding and show off my channel name. I quickly found that, at least to me, it was pretty annoying and only delayed my ability to watch the video. I've consistently found intro soungs/credits annoying on TV shows as well.

I started wondering, what about an outro with the same branding? Outros don't actually inhibit the watcher's ability to watch the video, and it's really no problem if they leave once they hit the outro either; they've already viewed my video (and any in-stream/sidebar ads).

Is there any data out there supporting intros or outros as being less annoying/more pleasurable to users?

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One other option is what many TV shows have nowadays: a cold open, then the intro, then the main content. –  Kit Grose Jun 30 '12 at 14:57
    
Also worth considering whether your audience is likely to watch a few of your videos sequentially (in which case they're going to probably quickly get tired of your intro unless your videos are very long). –  Kit Grose Jun 30 '12 at 14:58
    
@KitGrose yeah, sequential watching is what kills intros for me (moreso than outros because it's often harder to skip intros). On my Youtube channel I realized many users watch my videos in sequence so I quickly dropped intros cold turkey. –  Ben Brocka Jun 30 '12 at 16:22
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4 Answers

In general you should try to grab your viewer's attention right out the gate and attempt to keep them focused with interesting content throughout. Therefore, I would think it would be better to have an outro for the reason you stated of not inhibiting the viewer's ability to watch the video.

One common complaint I always hear is the massive sigh following clicking a link to a youtube video and getting stuck waiting for a 30 second advertisement for what could be just a 40 second video.

There have been a batch of cognitive psychology studies on attention spans, and the result is always the shorter the better. According to one by Lloyds, the average attention span is now just 5 minutes. Thus the faster you can deliver your content, the better.

There's also a batch of articles online to support the whole shorter is better concept in specific regards to youtube videos, they're all supported by a bit of research, and they're all actually a pretty good read. Here's a couple of choice selections:

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The biggest problem with intros is that you make users commit time to watching your video before you've proven that it's worth watching. That's a cardinal sin in design, because humans are bad at making short-term sacrifices for long term gains, and web users are pretty wary of advertisers anyway. Those two things combined means that intro videos can create very high bounce rates.

Outros, on the other hand, allow you to create calls to action that have meaning to someone who has already learned about your content and entered a relationship with your organization. They can create CTAs that directly follow on from prior content and offer compelling reasons for interested users.

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If a client asked me to design a video intro, I'd ensure it was as brief as possible - probably not more than two or three seconds.

A few seconds is enough to display a brand image and establish the content "wrapper". Any more and you risk the "massive sigh" effect that GotDibbs mentioned.

An outtro could be longer since by then you've delivered the goods and views may be more receptive. But there's potential for more user-sighing there if the videos end up as part of a playlist. For an example of good, brief intros & outtros see the Axure video tutorials on YouTube. Most have just a couple of seconds intro and outtro, so when you watch them as a continuous playlist you're not tempted to punch your monitor waiting to get to the content.

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Agreed on short intros; I love the Lost and Heros intro. 1 second, show the branding image, get to the content. –  Ben Brocka May 4 '12 at 19:03
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From personal experience, I hate Youtube videos with intros and seeing one, especially a long, noisy, flashy one, immediately predisposes me to dislike the video and the channel even without having seen any content. I also compulsively try to skip intros, which leads to further annoyance as I try to guess by trial and error exactly where the intro ends and content begins.

One thing I really love on Youtube is when people mark the start point of the video on the seek bar, so I can skip to the video itself. That makes a video with intro almost as good as a video without one.

Outros never bother me because I'm practically never in a position where it's difficult to skip an outro: It's obvious where an outro begins, and if I don't want to watch it, I can just close the video, since there isn't supposed to be any video after the outro anyway. I should say that I don't watch most outros either- they are often annoying.

Regrettably (at least for me), it may make more sense to use intros anyway. Sure, you'll annoy some viewers, but many people are too lazy to skip a few seconds of intro even if they'd rather not watch it (ie they'd "skip" the same segment if it was an outro), so you will get away with forcing at least some people to watch your intro who otherwise might not have. It may even make up for the people annoyed by it.

I'd like to point out some examples of good intros/outros:

  • Zero Punctuation video intros quite harmless visually (at least for me), but the early videos used to have an intro with music related to the videos topic. This actually made the video more enjoyable and added to the experience - as I was looking at the intro during this time, I imagine it accomplished the branding task quite well. Granted, you could argue that Zero Punctuation was just too good and stylistically distinctive to need any branding... Anyway, at some point, Yahtzee decided to use the same generic clip for each video, apparently due to copyright concerns. Soon after I began to habitually skip the intros - the song wasn't anything special the first time, and anything gets old after hearing it so many times. I dislike the intro and I'm not alone in this - and the intro (even though I skip it) would make me less tolerant to drops in quality (I can easily imagine a situation where I decide not to watch them anymore, but would have stuck with it if the intro was less annoying).
  • Again going to Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee adds small jokes in the credits after each video. This is the primary reason why I stick around to watch the credits. On the other hand, the awful intro song comes back, so I usually mute the video when credits start.
  • Half in the Bag has a very quick intro, with no music and little sound except Plinkett's voice hoarsely reading the title. Once again, I think overall, this adds to the video and if given the choice, I'd prefer to watch HitB videos with the intros in them. The key here, is, again: Not loud, not too flashy, not too busy-looking, quick, well-made (presents interesting visuals and sound, not wholly divorced from subject matter).
  • The Duck Song has a nice outro. It effectively and un-obnoxiously gets the message across. Moreover, given the video, I probably wouldn't mind if the music went on playing instead of fading down. Incidentally, the intro avoids being irritating by not being loud or garish or too long, but it is also unremarkable and if given the choice I'd prefer if it was omitted entirely, as it adds very little despite an unnecessary 2-second silent delay.
  • The SMBC-Theater has a short intro, which is graphically fine, but the sound is somewhat loud. The outro is similar. Still, it manages to end just a moment before I begin to feel irritated, so in the end they get away with it. An example is in this video I chose at random.
  • Incidentally, this recent SMBC video has a nice, custom intro sequence, which I like a lot.

So as a summary, if you want to have an intro (though this applies to outros as well):

  • Not too loud.
  • Not too long.
  • Don't try too hard to grab attention.
  • If possible, a custom intro for each video is a great thing to have.
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