June 6

Is Retention Editing Coming To An End?

Filmmaking, Mental Health, Social Media

Retention editing has dominated video platforms like YouTube and TikTok for years — but there could be a change on the horizon. 

When people talk about decreasing attention spans "thanks to social media," what they're likely referencing, at least in some part, is retention editing. The style, as the name suggests, is designed to keep viewers glued to their screens. 

And for a long time, videos that incorporated the hallmark traits of retention editing often got the most algorithmic push by platforms. But now, some creators are seeing a lot more success by creating a completely different style of video. 

What Is Retention Editing?

Retention editing is a style of video editing that utilizes a lot of fast cuts, graphics, interstitials, sound effects, and more. Most adherents of retention editing try to keep their videos clipping along at a brisk pace, editing out all the space between words when a subject is talking and often cutting away to visually contrasting footage. 

In some ways, the concepts of retention editing date back decades, finding roots in things like fast actions sequences and montages. Basically, any way to keep the viewer's attention by speeding up our sense of time and making sure our eyes and ears never get too "used" to a shot. But the style took over platforms like YouTube after creators like Mr. Beast started incorporating it to great success. 

In a bit of an ironic twist, it's kind of the opposite of the slow, life-paced style that launched the first YouTube stars like Casey Neistat. Instead of filming all day and cutting hours of footage down to 20-30 minutes, retention editing focuses on distilling huge amounts of time into a handful of minutes, or in the case of social media platforms, often just a few seconds. The style really took hold around 2019 and only accelerated thanks to the popularity of short-form vertical video.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Retention Editing?

It's important to note that retention editing didn't became so popular necessarily because viewers loved it. It became popular because the algorithms that determined which videos should hit discoverability feeds loved it. As these platforms evolve and tweak what "matters" to them, they realized that one way to keep eyes on the platform is to make sure there was always a curiosity gap. 

So when a video stimulates a viewer's curiosity with the use of bright colors, fast movement, and loud sounds, platforms say, "Hey, this must be a good video because it's keeping this person on our platform." Us humans, of course, know that a lot more goes into determining whether something is truly "good" or "satisfying" or "valuable." But that doesn't make the content effective from a platform perspective. As we've talked about before, tons of good content ends up not being effective content because it doesn't get seen by people — because it doesn't do the right things to "trigger" discoverability algorithms. 

So, a major pro of retention editing is that it kind of eliminates a lot of the guesswork in content. Make your first five seconds super catchy. Never let anything go for longer than a few seconds without something else "happening." It helps you know what should or shouldn't make a video based pretty much exclusively on whether it fits into those parameters. Plus, retention editing does tend to create a bit more of a "professional" feel to the video. 

But it's very time consuming. It requires you to script out videos more carefully because you know that while you may only need to film for a few hours throughout a day, the editing can take you an entire day all by itself. Retention editing has certainly led to an influx of for-hire video editors based largely on how long it takes. It's also one of the reason we see so many short-form video tools out there providing templates and assets to make the process smoother.

Another con is that retention editing doesn't always fit every type of video. It's not a good format for certain types of storytelling. You kind of have to shoehorn it in there when working with music content. It is a very specific style that creators are trying to bend their content to fit, and not the other way around.

Why It Might Be Coming To An End

Ok, "coming to an end" may be a bit dramatic. But we are saying a notable shift away from the style, including from some of the biggest creators in the world

Instead, some creators are seeing increased views simply by slowing things down, taking their time with story, and honing in on the basics of video creation. Notably, this is happening mostly on YouTube. But as TikTok continues to expand its video length options (some users can now upload videos up to 60 minutes long), we may see a trend change there, too. 

Why? Partially because that's how social media works. But also because it can be frankly pretty exhausting. There's been a fair amount of backlash against social media's addictive nature and how retention editing has allegedly led to a decreased attention span. So in some ways, going against the grain is just kind of "in" now. 

But in most cases, the creators having more success with slowing down their editing style already have fairly sizable followings. Fast, witty, attention-grabbing clips still seem to be the ones most likely to help creators build a following. At least for now. 


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