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Tim Lorang Blog

What is the optimal online video length?

Posted by Timothy Lorang on Tue, Jan 25, 2011 @ 07:44 PM

Measuring TapeI am often asked what is the optimal online video length and the answer is kind of like the light bulb joke:

How many video producers does it take to change a light bulb?

The answer: Does it have to be a light bulb?

How long should a video be?

The point is it just depends. Back when I started in broadcast television the answer was simple. A thirty second commercial was :29 seconds and a minute long commercial was :59 seconds. A half-hour show was 27:30 and an hour show was 57:30. Part of our job was to make the message fit exactly into the time frame and if you couldn’t give your message in the time allowed you just didn’t know how to edit your content. Now most video is on the internet and the time constraints of broadcast television are gone. So what should the time constraints be? Again that depends. Let’s look at some general guidelines and some particular examples.

Generally a program should hold the attention of its audience. If the content is interesting, if it is informative, if it is valuable to the audience then it is not too long. But how can you tell? Editors and directors are often too close to the video to look at it objectively.

  • Precious Shot Syndrome: Tom Speer, a shooter and editor I’ve worked with over the past twenty-five years used to give me a hard time when I tried to include a favorite shot. If the shot or sequence doesn’t help advance the story or it distracts from the message take it out.
  • Too many words: When I was making commercials we used to say if you can cut a word, or a sentence, and the message was still clear, you had too many words. Cut, edit and trim.
  • Bored viewers: Find someone who has not been involved in the production and ask them to watch the video. Watch for when they look at their watch; ask them when they are bored or distracted. That is where you need to cut content or make it more interesting.
  • Don’t be an encyclopedia: Don’t include everything in the video. Videos are good at telling stories, persuading and entertaining. Your video will be successful if after watching the viewer picks up an encyclopedia to learn more.
  • Comic timing: Turn on Comedy Central and watch a standup comic. They set up a joke and deliver the punch line. Setup the next joke and deliver the next punch line. They don’t spend a lot of time telling you everything, just enough to make the punch line pay off. It’s like watching the watching the cat on the treadmill videos. I don’t need to watch the cat for five minutes before it trips and flies off. The entire video is worth 15 seconds of my time.
  • Rule of Three: Again watch the comics. They will usually do three jokes in a row on the same subject then change subjects. If you feel like you need to put in four, five or six points you are including too much.

The point here is that there is no magic time or length of a video. There are videos that bore viewers, get off message and go too long. I have outlined some techniques for editing the content of a video so it is concise and to the point. But you may point out that some videos online are :30 seconds long and others are 60 minutes long. Are there length guidelines for different types of videos? We will go over that in the next blog. If you would like a commentary evaluation of how you or your company uses video online please contact us.

Photo credit: Haavarg Solveig

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