54 Seconds (The Wadsworth Constant)

Podcasting is part of a strange realm of content where consumer engagement lives somewhere between the extremes of reading and watching. There’s whole books that could be written about the differences between these three mediums, and in fact I wrote a thesis about it a few years ago, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s just say that reading requires more use of the imagination, watching is quicker to engage and listening lies somewhere in between those two poles.

On the imagination scale, audio sits in a nice middle ground where our voices are doing half the work and the listener does the other half, the visual half, by themselves. This is a great advantage of audio, where it allows consumers to drive a car, exercise, and generally go about their business while enjoying your content. On the engagement scale, audio can often be left behind. The instant visual impact provided by video content allows video producers to hook their viewers and move straight into their content. Except the immediacy of video, where a title card can be all the introduction the audience needs, is rarely taken advantage of. This phenomenon of long, unnecessary introductions in online videos gave rise to what is known as The Wadsworth Constant.

Named for the handle of the Reddit user who introduced the concept, the Wadsworth Constant holds that the first 30% of any online video is easily skipped without missing any important content. YouTube even introduced a URL modifier (append &wadsworth=1 to the end of any YouTube URL) that instantly skips the first 30% of any video. Of course it isn’t true for every video, sometimes you may need to jump back for context, but try it out, you’d be surprised just how effective the constant is.

The Wadsworth Constant is a reliable way to skip the unnecessary introduction portion of most online videos, but it’s also an effective rule in other mediums. If we apply the Wadsworth Constant to this article, then we start at “jump” in the last sentence of the previous paragraph, skipping the context and getting right in to the take-away from this article…

What lessons can we learn from this when applying it to our podcasts? We’ve already learned that audio content is a great stimulant for the imagination and when listeners are engaged, the imagination element is a great tool to make your content more intimate and personal, but our problem is how to get over that initial barrier of getting the audience to listen.

Podcasting has the built in method of serialisation; releasing regular content to create a habit in the audience, ensuring that you don’t have to guide your audience over that hump every episode. This doesn’t help us get new listeners though, and if we get too reliant on this, it can even lose us our subscribers. One of my favourite podcasts is slowly increasing the advertising content they play at the top of the show. Obviously I’m happy to tolerate a few advertisements for free, daily content, but when there’s 180 seconds of advertising played, even before the intro theme is heard, it can be easy to switch to another podcast that doesn’t have that kind of barrier. If I were a new listener it would be even easier for me to turn off. This isn’t an article about advertising, so let’s not go any further into that, but the lesson to be learned is that front-loading your show with advertising, introductions, theme music and other secondary content can be a barrier to entry for your audience.

How fast can you get from the audience pressing play on your podcast to hearing the content they downloaded your show to listen to? A theme song can be a good device for framing your show and putting your audience in a familiar mindset for your podcast, but it’s a hangover from old media content where it could signal the transition from one show to the next. In the stand-alone podcast world, do you need it? Advertisers obviously pay a premium to be read at the top of the show, where they are guaranteed to be heard, but if you’re loading three minutes of sponsors before a single second of content, how can you be sure your listeners aren’t skipping forward, or worse, switching off? Advertisers won’t keep paying those premiums if you don’t deliver your audience effectively.

If your podcast runs for more than ten minutes it’s likely that 30% is over-reaching. For an hour show the applied constant would mean that the first eighteen minutes are disposable. If you have eighteen minutes of fluff and filler at the start of your podcast then you should have very grave concerns about the quality of your content. Let’s go back to the examples I gave earlier, of the podcast that loaded three minutes of advertising at the top of the show. If we apply the Wadsworth Constant to this example, we get 54 seconds that is not needed. Can you get to your main content within 54 seconds of the show starting? Can you have your advertising, theme music and introductions completed in under a minute? If you do you might find your audience quicker to engage with you. Forcing yourself to skip the fluff will also help you tighten up your show. Don’t forget the Wadsworth Constant can be applied multiple times. Applying it to this paragraph three times discards everything before the salient question, “Can you get to your main content within 54 seconds of the show starting?”

Try it out and see if you can streamline your podcast.

If you want to hear further discussion on this, I discussed it on my podcast with Joshua Liston, Social Audio Think Tank. If you want to know more about the Wadsworth Constant then you can read the genesis of the term from Know Your Meme.

Written by Jackson Rogers (OzPodcasts)

6 thoughts on “54 Seconds (The Wadsworth Constant)

    1. I realised at the end I want to come up with a constant that extends for longer material, obviously if your show is 90 minutes long then 30% is too much, but it’s at least good to think about how much you make your audience sit through before you get to the good stuff. I know I’ve front-loaded way too much in the past, and probably still have more than I need even now.

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