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How long?

7 December 2006 4 Comments

Question: How long should an online video be?

Answer: As long as it needs to be.

If your goal is to go “viral,” then shorter is better. If you look at the viral hits on Google and YouTube, many are under one minute long. 


Is it because modern living has reduced people's attention spans to fruit fly proportions? No. It's because the shorter the video, the higher the odds that  viewers will watch to the end and push the “share” button.  It's the pushing of the “share” button that makes a video viral. That's the whole game. Of course, the video has to be a “wow!” to large numbers of viewers to stimulate this response.

But before we shout “hallelujeh” for viral videos, let's take a look at some of today's winners on Google Video
and their suitability as advertising vehicles:

1. “White and Nerdy” – a professionally produced music video
2. “Sex Accident” – less than zero
3. “PS3 vs. Wii” –  a professionally produced ad
4. “Octopus escaping through one inch hole” – dubious at best
5. “Fitness” – less than zero
6. “The Birth” – a comedy skit – dubious at best
7. “Guy pwned by girl” – less than zero
8. “Best penalty ever” – weak maybe
9. “Stars are Blind” – zero
10. “Quarters” – a professionally produced ad

Three of the winners came from professionals and were made to promote a specific product.

Four have no advertising value and at all and three of them would send any sane advertiser running in horror. One is a very weak maybe and the other two are of dubious value at best.

YouTube et. al. could theoretically run an ad before or after the three winners, but that would be strange because they are already advertisements for something.

The remaining seven range from incredibly weak advertising vehicles to postively radioactive in their unsuitability.

So tell me again why we as advertisers are so excited about viral videos?

Back to the question that started all this: How long should your online videos should be?

As long as it takes to tell your action-motivating story to your targeted prospect. If someone is interested (i.e. a potential customer) they will take in all the relevant information you have to offer. Within my own sphere of interest, I have no qualms about watching a 20, 30, even 60+ minute video online, but if something's not suitable for me, 7 seconds is too long and I'm not going to push the “share” button.


  • Anonymous said:

    This is a great discussion. One more question I hope you will address: how many companies, in what industries do you see moving from text to video? For those organizations accustomed to TV production, Internet video production seems a logical, even easy move. For those small to medium companies that have a hard time doing a competent website, I don't know that they'll ever move to video in a big way.
    Don Dunnington

  • Anonymous said:

    Great analysis, Ken. How in the heck did that octopus get through there?
    I would add the need for higher production values generally — but not always (see, I'm behaving) — increases with duration. The videos we make at AuthorViews are all under two minutes because we've found that people will not watch them any longer than that unless we add stuff like music and animation, which starts to get pricey.
    When we started making web videos several years ago, clients asked for longer, 5-minute clips. We made them, but they were dreadful. When clients learned how much it would cost to make a 5-minute video that people would watch, the price was too high.
    I highly recommend that companies using online video to profile employees try to cling to a 90-second limit unless they can afford to add whiz-bang graphics or a really cool octopus.
    President, AuthorViews, Inc.

  • Anonymous said:

    Indeed. There is a definite skills logjam right now.
    I counsel small businesses to make sure they've maximized everything they can possibly do with text-based advertising before they wade into video because the waters can deep.
    On the other hand, historically we've seen “moving pictures” as a medium become progressively more and more accessible to normal folks… The idea of a small business making a color sound “motion picture” to promote itself would have seemed as improbable as flying to the moon in the 40s, 50s, and even 60s.
    Cutting edge folks tested the waters in the 70s, then video opened the doors for everyone in the 80s, high end digital editing technology germinated during the 90s and is now available to kids for free.
    At this point, it's only time and will that keep even the smallest organization from starting to work with video. That's not to say that small organizations should “bet everything on red” with an expensive foray into video, but everyone should be on the learning curve.
    Start small, start modesly, keep it simple.
    One thing for EVERY business to look at right now is customer testimonials. They're relatively easy to shoot and they're powerful. Also, if putting on events or trainings is part of your business those shoudld go on tape too.
    I had this made for me for less than $1,500 out of pocket.
    The raw material was shot by a volunteer. The only dollar expense was the editing. Of course, I had to be involved in the edit choices very closely. Many, many hours went into this.
    Was it worth it?
    Yes. Many, many times yes.

  • Anonymous said:

    Good answer. I discovered one more barrier to consider if you're trying to reach a corporate audience. I attempted to view your two examples from inside my company's firewall. Our network policy wouldn't let me view the videos. As we in online communication keep devising new and interesting ways to present content over the Internet, those folks in corporate IT keep devising ways to protect their networks and limit bandwidth hogs.