Video on Digital – how long should it take to tell a story ?

Video on Digital – how long should it take to tell a story ?

As we sit and brainstorm about businesses and business models, one key discussion revolves around video. How long should be the video. As someone working in video, the answer traditionally would have been, the duration it takes to tell the story. But, in a world where consumption of video is on a smartphone, by a distracted millenial, do the old theories still hold.

One second, can you tell a story in one second ? There is someone who did. Cesar Kuriyama, shot a second almost every day to try and tell a story of what makes his life special. As he describes it

The purpose of this project is, one: I hate not remembering things that I’ve done in the past. There’s all these things that I’ve done with my life that I have no recollection of unless someone brings it up, and sometimes I think, “Oh yeah, that’s something that I did.” And something that I realized early on in the project was that if I wasn’t doing anything interesting, I would probably forget to record the video.

The story, however, only makes sense when edited together to tell a larger story. Confession : i still don’t get it – it looks pretty, and has nice shots, but the visuals are montages, but like most modern forms of Art, i really don’t get it. As a personal, individual visual experiment, it is interesting. But, i am not sure we are going to see a surfeit of 1 second videos in the near future.  Incase you want to experiment with one second story telling, there is an app for it.

While one second may remain experimental, how long should a video be. Too short, and you may not deliver content. Too long, it may end up not getting consumed. Given that most video is getting consumed on the mobile, shorter rather than longer is the way to go, at least that is conventional wisdom. And, the nature of the narrative has changed.

Viewers are seeing video content in more places by more brands than ever before. And because of this, their attention spans are getting shorter and their expectations are becoming greater. Marketers have just 10 seconds to capture and engage an audience before they continue to scroll down or click away; and engagement drops off significantly beyond that. If you have not fully engaged your audience after the first 30 seconds, you’ve likely lost 33% of viewers; and after one minute, 45% of viewers have stopped watching.

Conversations on creating digital video, now, are as likely to focus on what the thumb nail image should be, as what should be the opening scene.

There is still no one answer on duration. No one size fits all. I have been trawling through youtube and vimeo. There are videos there over an hour in duration, with millions and millions of views, and then there are really short content 3 minutes or less, with less than a 100 views. It all depends on how well you tell a story, i have seen 2 hour documentaries that have been so incredibly well told that i didn’t even look at the time once. On the other hand, i have seen 7-8 minute films that are so badly made, that viewing it feels like being stuck in eternity.

In India, the rapid proliferation of smartphones in the sub Rs.5000 category, and the anticipated unclogging of bandwidth has led to a tremendous amount of buzz in the digital video space. Content is being created, in different shapes and sizes, different languages and genres, to prepare for the boom. Where ever you go you will hear the buzz words – MCN, OTT, digital video, serialised story telling, and the rest. And, it is expected to be big. But, the question still remains – what is the optimal length of the video.

If you searched google for the ‘average length of video consumed on youtube’ you will get results all over the place. some will say 2 minutes, others will say 3. yet others will say, under 5 minutes. I read one which said less than 20 minutes. The answer is not as clear cut. When you look at the average time, it includes at one end of the spectrum, really long videos (20 minutes + , and the really short ones – and they have averaged out the time spent0.

I would maintain, do not sacrifice narrative for time. The narrative is the key. People watch a story, they don’t watch the clock (if they watched the clock, the film maker has done something wrong).

There are apps for creating really short videos (sub 20 seconds) , there is Vine, Periscope, snapchat, MixBit. and while there are people creating, co-creating and the rest, I am not really sure about consumption. How many of you will consume, someone else’s home video equivalent? Maybe 1 of them in a million. maybe, lesser.

We can, of course, professionally, create 15 and 20 second video narratives. This is usually the duration of a good TV commercial. But, then the costs go through the roof, and you really don’t know whether it would work or not. I still have to wrap my brain around a 15 second narrative. One could possibly do that for news. But, a story in 15 seconds – is a bit more difficult as a proposition. You could, of course, serialise it. Create a 10 minute film, in scenes that don’t exceed 15-20 seconds. Put those scenes up sequentially and hope that people view the next episode.  you could do that. but, would that be a gimmick or a way of adapting to consumer rhythms of consumption – i still don’t know.

Which brings me to Shield 5 – touted as a 28 part series on Instagram, no episode lasts more than 15 seconds. In other words, it is a 7 minute film, constructed with 28 scenes of 15 seconds each. According to the Guardian

For the time being, the Instagram TV series remains a work-in-progress – but we shouldn’t write off the genre before it’s even gotten off the ground. Instagram Video’s rival platform Vine, whose six-second video time is even more restrictive, has produced plenty of funny and creative standalone vids that make a virtue of the platform’s brevity. There’s no reason that someone couldn’t tell a layered, complex and engrossing story in seconds rather than hours.

will it work?  i honestly don’t know. i might watch it to see how it was constructed. comic strip type story telling for a new medium – you have to find the right stories to tell. Otherwise they are just gimmicks to break through the clutter, and attract attention.

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