The Forgotten Importance of Thumbnails

Miles Weaver
Miles Weaver Marketing Director

An interesting series of articles were published recently about the challenges YouTube is having in cracking down on how video thumbnails are used. A number of videos, heavily featuring guns in their thumbnails and purporting to be ‘the riskiest stunt ever’ along with other slogans, have recently grabbed attention for being ultimately misleading but also potentially dangerous. Young viewers, it has been argued, might not see them for what they are – clickbaity, attention grabbers to lure audiences into the video content, which turns out to be nowhere near as dangerous as it is made out to be in the thumbnail and headline.

Video creators are responding with a degree of outrage, pointing out that thumbnails and headlines are one of the few ways to grab attention on a platform flooded with content. This is where this topic becomes interesting to the owners of video platforms – visually stimulating thumbnails not only make your UI look better, they can substantially drive video views as well, delivering a much better level of ROI for your content.

As an example, let’s examine how BBC’s iPlayer initially displayed content:

And compare it to how it does now:

The new UI utilises text overlays and has characters engaging with the camera to create far more dramatic and visually interesting thumbnails that draw users into viewing the content, while the original layout just clipped a still from a set point in the asset, leading to some pretty bland imagery. Blandness, of course, doesn’t engender interest, so every aspect of the service needs to work a lot harder as a result in order to make sure those views happen.


Netflix (naturally) have put this idea on steroids, creating algorithms that enable them to personalise the artwork in line with the user’s demonstrated preferences, from having ranges of imagery for a single show, each of which is tailored to a specific user type based on their preferences:

Down to creating artworks based on other metrics, like preferred actors or genre types:

The first row shows how they might create a thumbnail for Good Will Hunting if the viewer is a fan of romantic movies, the second how they might do it if they have a comedy preference (Robin Williams is funny, Matt Damon is the romantic hunk).

Obviously a Netflix style solution is not viable for the vast majority of platform owners, but it does demonstrate the importance of having great, compelling thumbnails on your OTT service. They improve the overall look and feel of your UI, and when deployed properly, make every asset in your library more interesting and enticing to delve into for the user, creating a better experience for them, and a more efficiently monetised content library for you.

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Miles Weaver

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Miles Weaver Marketing Director
April 30, 2019

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