A Video is Not Worth 1.8 million Words

A Video is Not Worth 1.8 million Words

[Update 08/11/16] Hat tip to the guys at The Storage Agency for helping us keep this post up to date.

As I was writing our recent post about including video in your email marketing campaigns I was looking for some statistics to start it off.

One statistic which I stumbled across time and time again was that one minute of video is worth 1.8 million words.

To give you an idea of how widespread this stat is Google returns about 2,110 pages which contain the exact words “a minute of video is worth 1.8 million words”.

new-1-8-million-words-google

(If you are wondering what the speech marks are doing around the words they are search operators meaning that a page will only be displayed if it contains those exact words in that exact order. )

 

This statistic immediately sounds wrong. If I were to write 1.8million words of “low quality spammy text” it wouldn’t come anywhere close to being as valuable as a video, on the other hand, the entire works of Shakespeare consists of 928,913 words – you’d struggle to create a 1 minute video worth more than that..

So what does it actually mean?

The value of words doesn’t come from their quantity, so what is this little factoid measuring?

I decided to do a little digging, almost everyone attributes this factoid to Dr James McQuivey from Forrester Research. Quite a respectable source. But absolutely nowhere actually points to the research, it is just mentioned.

Shortly into this I was struck by an idea and decided to get the calculator out (forgive my poor mental arithmetic) to test it.

If a picture is worth 1000 words and there are 30 pictures in a second of video (for our American cousins) then a minute of video is worth 30*60*1000 = 1.8million words.

Why did no one think this was odd?

This is crazy. How is everyone repeating this unbelievable and illogical statistic without not only finding the original source but then not giving it a moments thought?

Not only is there no scientific basis behind the maths used to come up with this “statistic”, but the maths is based off of another made up statistic – that a picture is worth 1000 words!

Repeating this as fact is like saying that cat pictures stay popular on the internet 9 times longer than dog pictures. Actually, this might be true.

Cat 9 lives image

I could understand not finding the source if the statistic seemed to make sense.

I mean no one has the time to work back through references to find the original source and fact check it, we’re not in Uni anymore.

But with something as odd sounding as this, why is everyone happy to repeat it as if it is fact?

When people repeat this statement it needs to be said as exactly what it is, a figure of speech, not to be taken literally.

Image credit: oddfunny.com

 

Sam is a Graduate of Psychology from Warwick Uni. He's a Video Marketer at Replay Science and is interested in user behaviour and influence. You can find him on Twitter ‎@itssamhook and Google+.
  • Frognal

    Good analysis – I had just seen that stat as well and was unable to find any scientific reference. Thanks for questioning this urban myth!

  • Samuel Lee

    Great analysis!

  • Paulos Meek

    Not sure this is the gist of your piece but the figure can
    be sourced if you get behind the paywall at Forrestor. What it is alluding to
    is the fact that the engagement ratio of a video is exponetially greater than
    the 1.8m words of advertising. The data relates to the impact in terms of
    actionable throughput of word-based content (terms users actions resulting from
    it) vs video on average. More importantly its not video alone but digital video
    i.e. video that is disseminated over a network and has a consequent networked –
    exponential growth – potential. The calculation looks to quantify this
    net-effect also.