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Automated Generation of Intelligent Video Previews on Cloudinary’s Dynamic Video Platform

It’s human nature for most to want a sneak peek at upcoming content whenever possible. Think movie trailers or the “on next week’s episode” part of your favorite show. For video producers, an essential goal is to attract more views and clickthroughs.

Time is precious, however, so viewers invariably want to ensure that a video is relevant for them before watching it. A simple thumbnail is often not adequate to convey enough details of a video; this is where a short video preview could prove to be much more effective.

Cloudinary offers intelligent automatic generation of video previews to give viewers a preliminary look at the most interesting content. A powerful feature well worth adopting. All you need to do is add the preview effect (e_preview in URLs), like this:

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While platforms like YouTube have their own ways of auto-generating thumbnails, it’s vital for content creators to take charge and ensure that their video thumbnails stand out. One could use tools like Photoshop or Canva to add text, icons, or enhance the screenshot taken from the video. In YouTube Studio, creators can even choose between auto-generated thumbnails or upload their own customized thumbnail, making sure it accurately represents the content and grabs viewer attention. Here’s how one can go about it:

  1. Sign in to YouTube Studio.
  2. Select Content from the left menu.
  3. Click the video you want to edit.
  4. Select an auto-generated thumbnail or click Upload thumbnail.
  5. Click SAVE.

This emphasizes the importance of customizing video thumbnails, even if the platform provides an auto-selected preview. Remember, an engaging thumbnail could be the difference between someone clicking on your video or scrolling past it.

This is part of a series of articles about Marketing videos.

As a rule, developers spotlight videos on web and mobile apps with thumbnails. The simplest way to do this is with the video poster, which is often the first frame of the video—an image that could show nothing or be completely irrelevant to the video content, however. Not great for garnering more views!

Why not extract a relevant poster image from the video or create a completely different but eye-catching image instead? Many YouTube videos use the latter to try and grab your attention. Both options are time-consuming, manual jobs, though. In the case of managing a multitude of videos, especially if they are created by third parties, automation is the answer.

Below are some examples of the various approaches to creating poster images:

First frame

First frame

Middle frame

Middle frame

Manually selected frame

Manually selected frame

Custom thumbnail

Custom thumbnail

For a richer user experience with thumbnails, the best solution is to make them move. You could play a short preview of the video content on thumbnail hover. That setup has proven to be extremely effective in increasing engagement, leading to more views of the full video.

Similar to creating thumbnails, generating short video previews is often a manual, time-consuming process. The following are two common options:

  1. Take a few seconds from the video, either at the beginning or the middle. That’s a formulaic, but by far not ideal solution.
  2. Pick the most engrossing moments that last a few seconds from the video. In many cases, you must extract those moments from several scenes, necessitating more time and effort.

The case for a more efficient solution for spotlighting videos is obvious.

First three seconds

Middle three seconds

Custom selected three seconds

Custom edited preview

Platforms like YouTube also have their ways of selecting video snippets. For instance, YouTube often automatically selects a clip from the first half of a video to show as a preview. But as creators, one might consider trimming and customizing these previews to better represent the video’s essence. For instance:

  1. Trim 15 seconds from the beginning of the video.
  2. Clip out different parts and stitch together the main points to create a compelling short preview.

These manual methods, though potentially more time-consuming, can provide a more curated experience for the viewer.

We’ve already established that video previews showing the most important content in a video provides the best experience for users. It’s just the question of how to generate these previews automatically. Cloudinary’s capability for automatically generating video previews solves this question and allows you to customize it to match your needs. Through advanced AI and machine-learning techniques, Cloudinary analyzes each video frame, assigns it an importance score, and creates a preview. To trigger that process, simply add the preview effect (e_preview in URLs).

Here’s how this looks for our rocket launch video:

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We recommend adding the preview effect on upload as an eager transformation to ensure that Cloudinary completes the analysis before delivery (or alternatively use the explicit method before delivery on a video already in your account).

Cloudinary’s initial smart preview functionality created a preview using a single segment from the video, which works well for short and simple videos, such as stock or social ones. The feature has now been enhanced to select multiple segments from the most relevant parts of the original video before generating the preview.

For long videos, e.g., lectures, sports matches, and training classes, consider overriding the default number of segments and their minimum duration by setting the max_seg and min_seg_dur parameters. Below is a video preview from Cloudinary CEO Itai Lahan’s 2019 ImageCon talk, with five segments, each three seconds long:

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The default number of segments and durations adjusts according to the length of the original video. For details, see the related documentation.

Now that we know how to easily generate intelligent video previews, let’s see them in action. The most common way to start a video preview is to play it when a viewer hovers over its thumbnail. The codepen below shows an example of this:

See the Pen Intelligent Video Previews Demo by Cloudinary (@Cloudinary) on CodePen.

The above example uses multiple Cloudinary Video Player instances for both the small previews and the full videos. The preview players’ controls are hidden, with each video looping continuously, giving the impression that it’s an animated GIF. Because they are smaller than GIFs, those videos load faster, delivering a more optimized experience.

Generating intelligent video previews through automation with Cloudinary is as simple as adding the preview effect (e_preview in URLs) to your videos. You can then easily configure the duration and number of segments. Do give it a try. Increase your video engagement by providing more compelling video listings that feature intelligent video previews.

For more information and examples, see the documentation.

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