YouTube ‘Heatmaps’ For VR Show Where Viewers Are Looking

Color-coded overlays show exactly where viewers are looking when watching 360 content.

With a healthy catalogue of 360-degree content, a high-quality app available on most virtual reality headsets and a brand new VR Creator Lab program, YouTube is steadily securing itself as the go-to destination for 360-degree content. However, the most recent feature released by the popular video-sharing site, YouTube ‘Heatmaps,’ has got to be the most exciting new tools for VR video producers yet.

Compatible with any 360-degree video containing at least 1,000 views, Heatmaps give a detailed insight into how viewers are observing your 360 videos. By providing a color-coded overlay, creators can see what viewers are focused on in their videos, how long they’re focusing on those areas for and exactly which parts caught their overall attention the most. Portions of the frame shaded in blue indicate areas of low attention, while warmer colors, leading up to red, signify higher points of attention.

The heatmap will morph and adjust in real-time as the video progresses, keeping creators constantly aware of which areas garnered the most focus. As the feature continues to roll out we’ll quickly start seeing the underlying trends within popular 360-degree content and in-turn begin understanding the most effective techniques within the format.

YouTube has already collected a bit of Heatmaps data from a variety of 360-degree content to demonstrate the functionality of the new analytics system and the results are, well, less-than surprising. According to the collected data, you best keep most of the action in the center of the frame. Despite having a full 360-degrees of freedom, audiences spent 75% of their time within the front 90-degrees of the videos. Apparently it takes quite a bit of motivation to convince viewers to turn their heads.

This doesn’t apply to every video however, as research indicates that more popular 360 videos had viewers observing much more of the space. In fact, nearly 20% of the views on the most-watched 360 videos were at what was going on directly behind the audience. So what are these popular videos doing that other, less-viewed content aren’t? YouTube has a few theories:

  • Focus on what’s in front of you: All that freedom is great, but a majority of viewers barely divert their attention from what’s in front of them. Make sure they have something to look at.
  • Get their attention: Give viewers an actual reason to look around. Keep the video engaging and easy for viewers to follow. Try using indicators such as markers or animations to redirect their attention to the desired parts of the video.
  • Keep different experiences in mind: 360-degree YouTube content is viewable on a variety of platforms, each with their own set of pro’s and con’s. While watching on mobile devices means a fairly quick launch, peripherals such as Google Cardboard require a few seconds of set-up before being operational. Give viewers a few seconds of dead-air before beginning the experience to properly adjust their VR equipment. Don’t like the idea of silent black at the beginning of your video? Try inserting some basic instructions for the proper use of the 360 technology. After all, this could be the first virtual reality experience for many.

So while there are a few obvious speed bumps, the world of 360-degree video production still appears to have a bright future ahead thanks to the huge support of media giants such as YouTube. If you’re looking to dive even deeper into VR video production, check out the new VR intensive program we’re doing with YouTube, VR Creator Lab, taking place at YouTube Space LA. Applications are now open!

About the Scout

Kyle Melnick

Kyle is a writer for VRScout also working in new media production. He's also a part-time bounty hunter.

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