We all know that lots of videos are being watched online. But a new Digital Index report from Adobe provides a measure of how much. In the fourth quarter of 2012 alone, for instance, there were 11 times more video streams than all the movie tickets sold in the U.S. over the entire year. 

That’s 15 billion streams over three months, according to the 2012 U.S. Digital Video Benchmark -- a 30 percent increase over Q4 2011. There was a 13 percent increase just from Q3 and Q4, and a 50 percent growth since first quarter of 2011.

Video Growth: TV and Sports

What’s driving that enormous -- and increasing -- growth? The Adobe report attributes it mostly to new TV and sports content, and says there are opportunities for content providers and advertisers to provide “personalized digital video experiences.” User-generated content is not included in the stats.

As in every other area, mobile is booming, with three times the number of video starts on smartphones and tablets in Q4 than for the same period in 2011. There is a bit more video-watching on tablets than on smartphones, and the report points to tablets as being fertile ground for publishers and advertisers because its viewers usually consume more content, book more trips and spend more money. But mobile is still only a small portion of the picture, accounting for about 10 percent of total video starts.

The report describes video on smartphones as “content snacking,” a term that’s becoming more popular as a way to describe on-the-go quick dips into news, weather and sports clips. By contrast, tablet viewing is more likely to occur at home and through Wi-Fi, and viewers tend to watch longer clips.

TV content is the main driver of online video viewing. On tablets, video stats for such content as full TV episodes are nearly a third higher than other kinds of video content, and special sports events, such as the Super Bowl or the Daytona 500, double mobile video stats. Most video is watched on personal computers, but tablet viewers are more likely to see an entire video.

Social Media, Ad Position

The report advises that pre-roll ads are good branding opportunities for TV programs on computers, while post-roll ads are best for directing call-to-action ads to tablet viewers. Ads placed at the end of a video have a better click-through rate -- 3 percent -- than those inside the video or at the beginning. But, as might be expected, ads at the top result in more impressions.

A key issue with video-related ads is completion rates, and the report finds that ads are more likely to be viewed in their entirely if they’re within a video, compared to the beginning or afterwards. But ads in videos longer than two minutes have a higher completion rate, regardless of where they are. The report doesn’t venture a reason why, but it could be that viewers who are viewing a longer-form video tend to be committed for the duration.

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From Adobe's U.S. Digital Video Benchmark report for 2012

Patterns of video watching driven by social media are also beginning to emerge. The report notes that most video is reached via a direct link or a search, but videos reached via a social media recommendation are more likely to be completed, apparently because they’ve been suggested by a trusted source.

Facebook is the most referring source, as might be expected, but Twitter users are three times more likely to point to a video than other content types. And those of us who are constant recipients of “you have to see this” links to videos will not be surprised that viral sharing of video of video grew to 77 percent of viral communications in Q4, a huge increase from 55 percent in Q1 2012.