How long does a video need to be to make it work really well on the internet and social media? Reader question to Dr. Film from Nadia E., Stuttgart, by e-mail
Reader Question: We have been communicating with video in our company for some time. That’s why we always ask ourselves what the maximum length of a good video should be? I only get contradictory information on this!
You need to know
- In many places, there is an opinion that a video should not be longer than 2 minutes, because otherwise it will not be viewed on social media. YouTube proves otherwise. Currently, videos with a length of up to 30 minutes are more successful than short formats.
- As a basic principle, a professional audience is more tolerant of a professional video in terms of video length. Those who want to see or learn something are interested in details and, like fans of music videos, will forgive any lengthiness.
- Equally, however, has also proven itself: Better a short video that is fun than a longer, but boring video.
- The important thing is always the perceived length, not the effective video length.
How long does a video have to be?
Dear Nadia, the irritation is understandable. Because there is more than one correct answer to the question of the perfect duration of a video. A social video isn’t just the right length if it doesn’t bore its viewers for a second until the end. Especially in commissioned films and far from cat videos, moving images also have other tasks to fulfil.
Videos transport emotions and information. To reconcile both, entertainment and the desire to make a statement, is demanding in itself. But there’s more. Just like in real life, the sky isn’t just sunny and blue when it comes to video content production. Budget constraints and fixed deadlines limit the choice of options.
★ Sure, there are numbers and statistics on the right length. If you really believe that cats and dogs tick the same, you can trust that. This is because almost all available studies try to score points with data that cannot stand up to rigorous scrutiny.
YouTube has an audience of unimaginable size and would be predestined as a data source for studies. Unfortunately, the industry leader only provides very general orientation values for the length. If you want to target audiences with moving images, averaged averages, cat video fans and viewers from Uttar Pradesh included, are of limited value.
★ How long does a video have to be? In 2009, the American video platform Wistia claimed to have found out that a video of 2 minutes in length performs significantly better than one of 30 seconds. Absurdly, an identical video was put online twice: Once the first thirty seconds, the other time the video in its total length of 2 minutes put online. In this way, so-called studies can be efficiently created.
Who’s more likely to win a horse race? Half a horse, sawed in half? Or a whole horse? Would you recommend a restaurant that refuses you the main course after the appetizer? Unsurprisingly, the video scored better overall poll ratings than the amputee twin. Thus, the supposedly magical 2 minutes as a benchmark for web video was born. Various video producers are still happily knocking these 2 minutes around their customers’ ears online and offline eight years after the study.
More about the video length
Not only too general data bases are a serious problem for the determination of length for commissioned films. Imagine the circle of addressees of your moving image content consisted of die-hard snowboard fans.
Her clip shows, without commentary, a pimply teenager making silly remarks, fooling around for minutes, and finally jumping a backside triple cork in no time. Her target audience from the scene immediately recognizes 13-year-old Marcus Kleveland, the world’s only teenager to master this currently most difficult of all jumps. Non-snowboarders only understand station.
You don’t need to be a psychic to guess which audience will watch the video all the way through. The same effect is also seen in CEO videos.
★ In this context, the professional speaks of the problem of leveling. Depending on the previous knowledge of the viewer, his reaction to the video content is completely different.
A professional video is usually not a stretched out chewing gum for the eyes. Rather, it is a work that has been designed from A to Z according to content and dramaturgical necessities, and is thus free of ballast.
For a meaningful test, therefore, two different videos of different length would have to be sent into the race on the basis of the same briefing. This is the only way that A/B testing makes sense and is meaningful.
YouTube channels and Facebook have a mission.
YouTube channels and Facebook don’t want to distribute movies, they want to generate as much revenue as possible with ads on their video platforms. The better the viewer experience (ergo: the content), the longer the dwell time, the greater the profit.
If there were fixed, universal values for what length works best for which distribution channel, Facebook and co. would have long since limited the maximum uploadable video length to this value (YouTube currently allows a maximum length of 11 hours!). Facebook, after all, 120 minutes. See also the article How videos survive more than 8 seconds on social media).
For clients and for us filmmakers, the only thing that helps is to fall back on experience and rules of thumb, combined with common sense and an alert mind. Only those who ask the right questions will get the right answers!
So again, how long does a video need to be?
The following tricks and tips from many years of proven practice will help you to individually evaluate the right length in a commissioned film, regardless of whether it is a web video, 360 image film or short film:
★ The goldfish
Last year, a new study caused a stir in the communications industry. This said that the average media user’s attention span of 8 seconds is less than that of a goldfish. Goldfish are said to be particularly happy animals because their memory has such a short attention span that every round in the aquarium is a new experience for this fish species.
How long does a video have to be? The target audience of their films is unlikely to be goldfish. Still, the attention span of their audience is an important factor in the length of their video. Do they know their audience?
★ Courage to fill the gap
Churchill is said to have claimed that there is no problem in this world which (given the necessary knowledge and will) cannot be solved in 20 minutes. Keep it simple, stupid.
How long does a video have to be? For moving images, short means less than three minutes. Omission is more difficult than addition, this realization cost Vincent van Gogh his ear in 1889. The master only said: “Comme il est difficile d’être simple”.
The master shows himself in his use of reduction and deliberate omissions. Talent costs. Also in the movie. Do you know your budget and the resulting possibilities?
★ Every highway his car
Content is King. Distribution is Queen. Each type of distribution has its own requirement profile for the optimum length. How well do you know the channel and environment in which their video content is consumed?
★ Thinking around the round corner
What is important is not what is said, but what is received. However they go about it, sooner or later those involved in a video production almost always have a “tube view”. From an inside perspective, the length of a film is always perceived differently than from an outside perspective. Have you tested your work on this?
★ The gut is right
Numbers don’t lie. 60 seconds is equivalent to one minute in most cases. For moving images, that’s only half the story. Sixty seconds of a clueless video can feel twice as long. Conversely, viewers may judge the perceived length of a four-minute clip to be half as long.
How long does a video have to be? Your viewers don’t use a stopwatch to decide how long to watch the video. It’s the stomach. The perceived length determines whether the viewer will stay tuned until the call-to-action. Do you differentiate between perceived length and effective length for video content?
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