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Sunday, April 14, 2024

The ‘Beastification of YouTube’ may be coming to an end

Over the past few years, a very specific style of video editing has all but guaranteed success on social media. Known as “retention editing” because of its unique ability to keep a user glued to their screen, this style features loud sound effects, fast cuts, flashing lights and zero pauses.

Fast-growing accounts on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube have adopted retention editing. Large content creators such as Dylan Huynh and Matthew Beem have amassed hundreds of thousands of subscribers by leveraging it. Nick Cicero, who teaches social media and digital marketing at Syracuse University, said that retention editing has become the dominant format for videos across the creator economy. “These mediums and platforms have times and periods where they go through different styles of content,” he said. “There’s this overwhelming bubble of a certain type of editing style right now. This is the retention editing period.”

“It’s the Beastification of YouTube,” said Noah Kettle, co-founder of Moke Media Co., a video editing and social media monetization consultancy. MrBeast, whose real name is Jimmy Donaldson, built his reputation by creating hyper-engaging, fast-paced videos with frequent action on screen. That led smaller YouTubers and content creators to mimic his style.

But the style that made some of the biggest influencers famous may have peaked, and there are signs the retention editing wave is subsiding. This month, Donaldson tweeted a plea to his fellow YouTubers to “get rid of the ultra fast paced/overstim era of content.” He said that in the past year, he has slowed his videos, focused more on storytelling, “let scenes breathe, yelled less” and focused on longer videos, all of which has resulted in even more views.

Other creators, such as YouTuber Sam Sulek, have begun to gain millions of subscribers by posting videos with little to no editing, perhaps a sign that users are fatigued by the current dominant style.

Such a change could have a ripple effect on the content creator industry, and significant business implications, experts said. For instance, if content creators require fewer editing resources, it could threaten the outside editing services that many content creators use.

Creating a retention edited video requires a lot of work. “Every clip in the video should be under two seconds,” said Dara Pesheva, a 17-year-old who works as a freelance video editor for social media content creators. “Every 1.3 to 1.5 seconds you have to have a new graphic or something moving, you have to [use] a lot of effects. For every image and every transition, you have to add a sound effect. You need flashing graphics, and you have to have subtitles in every video.”

Since the rise of short-form video apps like TikTok, Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts, capturing a viewer’s attention has become more challenging than ever. TikTok has trained users to scroll away if they aren’t hooked within the first half-second, social media video editors said. This is why so many retention edited videos start with a loud bang or whoosh sound. It jolts the viewer into paying attention, then attempts to keep that attention with flashing graphics and sound effects.

Pesheva said retention editing has contributed to the struggles young people say they have with focusing. “People around my age can’t focus,” Pesheva said. “They have very short attention spans. They’re used to TikTok, and so editors have to adjust for Gen Z. They have to adjust to the fact that people can’t keep their attention on something for more than a second if it’s not entertaining.”

Newer video editing tools have also contributed to the use of retention editing. CapCut, the video editing platform owned by TikTok parent company ByteDance, allows users to add catchy sounds and special effects to their videos with just a few taps. This has allowed anyone, even children, to create videos with tons of explosions, laser effects and animated text. Replicating those same effects on older video editing tools such as Adobe Premiere or After Effects could take hours and is far more complicated.

“CapCut has a lot of presets,” Kettle said. “You don’t have to spend hours learning it. CapCut and other easy iPhone apps have allowed more people to edit. But, at the same time, it contributes to everyone having the same style, because everyone’s using the same basic tools. I’ve seen 10 to 15 creators use the exact same animated money-on-screen effect, and it’s all from CapCut.”

David McNamee, head of brand at a social media and digital agency in Los Angeles, said that not only do clients come in asking for this style of video, but he also often recommends it to brands because of how effective it is at holding young people’s attention. “I’ve had clients where I’ve told them to do this style because it’s a huge and an instantly recognizable format now,” he said.

“It’s designed to be addictive,” McNamee said. “It’s like a slot machine with bells and whistles that are keeping you entertained because the is so bright and it’s loud. It doesn’t matter what the content is, because your brain is being told this is entertaining because it’s flashy.”

Connor Bibow, a freelance videographer in Georgia, said that it’s no surprise retention editing works so well on channels like MrBeast’s that cater to children, because the editing format is very similar to children’s cartoons. “It’s a lot of noises and bright colors,” he said.

The rise of artificial intelligence has contributed to the retention editing boom by making it easier to create such videos. Tools like Captions.ai and Veed.io offer a robust suite of AI-enabled creative tools that creators are using to produce retention edited content, said Chaso Thavaseelen, a content creator and social media strategist focused on AI. “It has become a really big trend for creators to be over editing,” Thavaseelen said. “With the AI tools that are out there, a lot of creators are going viral because that style is getting easier to make.”

Thavaseelen said he began leveraging retention editing after seeing MrBeast speak about it. “MrBeast is very open and transparent with his content, and he tells people what he said,” Thavaseelen said. “He tells people you have to optimize for retention. A lot of clips he puts on short form are retention edited.”

But as MrBeast has cooled on the style, experts say that other creators are already beginning to follow. “There’s been a wave of creators who have now transitioned to just making hour-and-a-half videos with just them and a whiteboard,” Kettle said, “and they’re outperforming every single video that they’ve done that was optimized for attention.”

Cicero, the Syracuse University instructor, said that YouTube, like many art forms, has different styles that define different periods. Retention editing, he said, has defined the 2020 to 2024 era, but fatigue eventually sets in.

“Early on, it was very easy to blow up and become a viral hit with [this type of editing], but now it’s a lot harder,” he said. “There are these waves of different trends in editing, or in fine art, or in music, where you have these different styles. Maybe retention editing is like the impressionist period for YouTube.”

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