Debunking the Short Run Time Fallacy

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

We live in the era of snippets.

Six second vines. 15 second instagram videos. Gifs. Gifs. Gifs.

It’s no wonder the reported attention span of the average American is seven seconds. Since the beginning of the internet age, we’ve been conditioned to consume our media in instant, short bursts. And that cultural idea has gotten itself far too intertwined with the content making business. The result? A lot of really short videos that exist as cultural memes for 22 seconds and then die away, leaving no actual long term impact on the viewer.

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A NEW PHILOSOPHY:

Eight years ago, I was working in a content marketing department at a Big Ten University at the same time as YouTube was starting to gain traction. I leapt at the opportunity to maximize on the channel’s distribution power.

I was lucky. It was good timing for a former journalist. Done right, it was and still is an incredibly affordable way to feed your social channels with engaging content. However, the team I was working with was going beyond that. We were taking risks and ignoring what most academic institutions were doing online, which meant my employer was at the forefront of YouTube success. We were routinely achieving seven figure view numbers at a time when the biggest hit on YouTube had only 10 million views. Hard to believe, I know.

The view numbers were getting attention, which meant a lot of people would come to me and ask how to get their videos seen. I’d say the same thing over and over: MAKE YOUR VIDEO SHORTER.

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I’ve since realized that this philosophy is just, well … WRONG. Why? Because it ignores a fundamental truth about humans. We LOVE stories. Sure, we love snippets too. But, great stories, captivating narratives, funny quips, emotional moments – these things all usurp our sense of time passing. No one finds themselves laughing hysterically only to stop and say: Oh, I’ve been laughing FAR too long.

A CAREFUL EDITING EYE:

I think what I meant to say then, but know now because of years of additional experience with this game is: edit with a keen eye from the concepting phase all the way through your video production.

Get to know who you’re talking to. Focus on the story you want to tell them. Reduce fluff in the narrative. Be concise about the key points.

In essence, kill your darlings.

Too many people think that the editing part of video production happens when an editor sits down with all your footage and starts making decisions based on the script and storyboard. That’s just not true. Really focusing in on the story, the characters and the larger point you want to make at each stage will allow you to make better decisions before the cameras start rolling.

This isn’t to suggest that the physical act of editing the video isn’t critical either. We just need to be more flexible about it and rethink the workflow.

I’ve started advocating for multiple rough edits on the first cut of the projects I do for my clients at Mighteor, because it allows us to see how different timelines play out. Sometimes, the 2 minute video does in fact FEEL shorter than the 1:30 version, because of how the pacing, tone and timing come together. Seeing this in a rough cut means we can pursue the 2 minute version with even more commitment.

A NEW APPROACH:

Two years ago, I created a web video production company that focused on creating video content exclusively for internet channels. It didn’t seem all that novel a concept, but it revealed something fundamentally true to what I believe today: as video producers, we must be nimble and ruthless throughout every part of the production process if we want to create hits. And producers that are shifting gears from traditional media models to online channels need to completely reassess how they approach storytelling, production and teamwork.

As you begin brainstorming about your next video, remove your mind of the illusion that ALL. THINGS. ON. THE. INTERNET. MUST. BE. SHORT. Instead, get focused on hooking people. Get excited about making someone laugh or cry or just keep watching. Imagine what might make someone go beyond playing the video and actually sharing it with their social networks and pursue that.

It all comes down to this: fantastic concepts that know WHO they are targeting will hit better than a half-thought out concept no matter how long or short.