YouTube is adding new GIF previews of uploaded videos to replace its traditional thumbnails.
Thumbnails on YouTube have long been a vital part of any vlogger’s strategy to attract viewers, as the right image, caption or taste of what a video contains can make the difference between a view and a scroll along to the next video. Even Netflix is hyper-aware of the difference a picture can make, using data to test out the response to varied artwork and even personalising the posters in its carousel to what will work most effectively for each user.
As Netflix begins to introduce video previews for its titles, YouTube is taking a leaf from its streaming rival to jazz up its own thumbnails. The site is now rolling out those 3-second previews across the site for desktop users.
“We are improving how you make video watching decisions by launching an experiment for video previews for desktop,” announced YouTube in a tech blog post. “A small (and growing) percentage of our users will be shown a 3-second preview of the video while browsing YouTube on desktop. The preview will play when you hover over the thumbnail, giving you better sense for what each video is about and making it easier to find the next great video to watch.”
The GIFs will be shown on the Home page, Search results page, Watch page, Subscriptions tab, and Trending tab on select desktop browsers (Chrome versions 32 and up and Opera version 19 and up). Mobile devices, though, will see the traditional thumbnails.
While they certainly look the part, though, they also mark a reduction in creative control for uploaders, as YouTube’s system automatically selects a clip from the first half of the video that it believes “gives the best idea of what your video is about”.
The Verge notes that videos must be longer than 30 seconds to be eligible for a GIF thumbnail, with other criteria, such as video topic and content, to decide whether to deploy a GIF or not.