Is the Video Intro the Death Of YouTube Custom Thumbnail?

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Carla Marshall
January 25, 2023
Video Intro

YouTube has changed a lot over the years. New designs, new creators, new algorithms, and new rules….but we never expected this particular one.

  • When scrolling YouTube’s inline player, it auto-plays a video while skipping the custom thumbnail image.
  • We look at what this change means for the future of thumbnail art on YouTube, your video’s performance, and how you can work with this change to see better results on your YouTube uploads.
  • Use TubeBuddy’s Retention Analyzer tool to identify how your content is actually performing during the video intro timeframe.

If you open your YouTube app, start scrolling down, and then stop, the custom thumbnail for the video you stop on disappears, and the video automatically starts playing as part of the. Inline Player feature. 

This is aimed at teasing the viewer as to the content of your upload, helping give them a taste of your content before they decide to click or skip. For creators, this option is a mix of good and bad and scary. Keep reading for information about the importance of video intros,  or watch our video below:

Why YouTube Custom Thumbnails Have Served Creators So Well

They have always served as the only visual gateway into your content. They were the deciding factor between viewers clicking or passing up on your video. 

But now, with the inline player introducing new viewing behaviors, your video thumbnail is becoming obsolete. 

Your video intro actually matters a lot more than ever before. Perhaps even more critical than your thumbnail itself. This isn’t just speculation. According to YouTube director Todd Beaupre, intros are becoming increasingly important as the YouTube homepage and search incorporate more inline video previewing versus static thumbnails. 

“For many viewers, the video intro is the new thumbnail.”

Those are words directly from the director at YouTube. Tubebuddy confirmed this by asking our community for your feedback. 71% of viewers polled on our channel said that they used these previews in the app to decide if they want to continue watching a creator’s video, which is actually crazy because viewers are not just looking at your title and thumbnail when deciding to watch a video.

Your video intro is a third factor, and YouTube could entirely remove custom thumbnails on the homepage. It’s not that strange when you think about it. 

Most platforms have already moved away from thumbnails in the home feed. Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. You don’t see thumbnails in the main mobile feed. Even Netflix has an autoplay feature. 

Videos that autoplay also seem to boost engagement and retention. On Facebook, autoplay increased likes, shares, and comments by 25%, according to one report. 

Twitter also revealed that brands saw a 700% increase in completions of promoted videos via autoplay, boldly labeling the change as a new standard in viewability. 

This could be a win-win for platforms and creators, and we wouldn’t be surprised if YouTube’s planning to downplay thumbnails soon. After all, this whole inline player update we saw this year started as a test in 2017. And in 2018, YouTube was already experimenting with replacing custom thumbnails with auto-generated ones for a small percentage of users. 

Amore significant shift away from customized thumbnails in a viewer’s recommendations may not be that far off. For many of you, this might be incredible news. Most of us suck at making thumbnails. And countless videos get held back by poor titles and thumbnails. 

What if we didn’t have to worry about our thumbnails limiting the success of our videos at all? What if we could just focus on creating content and let YouTube’s robots do the rest? 

But hey, that future is not here yet. You still need to focus on making great thumbnails that pop on YouTube. Plus, I don’t see custom thumbnails disappearing in other parts of the platform. End screens, Playlists, and your channel page are substantial traffic sources. And if you minimize a video that you’re currently watching, that whole autoplay thing just stops entirely. 

But Remember: Custom Thumbnails Still Matter on Other Parts of YouTube!

So thumbnails are not out the window yet. With this in mind, it’s critically important for you to consider the title, thumbnail, and intro while packaging your videos. Not only to future-proof your content if thumbnails go bye-bye. But to increase your video’s performance today. 

Because we also learned in our polls that 41% of viewers will move on from a video entirely if they decide it’s not interesting within the first 10 seconds. Which is even more reason for your intros to be on point. 

Your bad intro might be killing your click-through rate!

Previously, your click-through rate was calculated based on how many viewers watched your video after seeing the thumbnail on YouTube. But if nobody sees your thumbnail, what’s considered an impression? And if the video is just always playing, what’s considered a view? Well, direct answers are hard to find, but we did some digging.

YouTube did let creators know that auto-plays from the home page do count as impressions. They also told creators that auto-plays in the home feed will be counted as views when determining the click-through rate. 

But when is an autoplay impression counted as a view since the video is always playing? Now they aren’t telling us that much. But based on some testing, I think we can make an educated guess. It looks like the video shifts from an impression to a view after holding the viewer’s attention for 10 seconds. 

As we said, 41% of viewers in our poll said that they will move on from a video within 10 seconds if it does not capture their attention. In this inline player, because you know the viewer really never committed to the video, just makes it too easy for them to keep scrolling. 

Meaning that if your intros don’t hook the viewer, that impression may never move on to a full view. And a lot of impressions plus a few views equals the saddest little click-through rate. 

So we repeat, your video title, thumbnail, and intro are essential not only for your video success today but in the future. If your content is underperforming because of a poor title or thumbnail, you can switch that sucker out as much as you’d like. But if the intro is causing people to lose interest, that’s a little tougher to fix. While a better title or thumbnail will help, it won’t solve the problem completely. 

Start to pivot now to focus on the equal importance of your video intro, knowing it’s already playing a huge part in what’s being served up to potential viewers and subscribers on YouTube.