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September 24, 2014

I have a friend who complains about the death of long form journalism. How flowery, carefully reported and exquisitely researched stories that used to spring from the pages of mags like The New Yorker are as endangered as the blue whale. I’m skeptical. I tend to think that the internet, and the blogosphere, has found ways to adapt this type of storytelling. There will always be corners of the digital domain where 3,000 word essays find a home. I’m not worried about the written word. What I’m really worried about is video.

Lemme set the stage: Every semester I have the honor of speaking to Dr. Jean Wilcox’s Marketing class at Temple University. I love getting feedback from the students, seeing their social habits change, and connecting with people who haven’t been brainwashed by the system. Fresh opinions unblemished by too much social media guru thought leadership.

On that day I was looking for feedback about the rising star of social media – the video. We know that YouTube alone is seeing staggering traffic —over 6 billion hours of video are watched each month —almost an hour for every person on Earth. We all agreed video content is firmly entrenched on Facebook (thank #ALSChallenge), so I moved in for what I really wanted. I queried the class on what they considered the BEST length of a video.

Six to eight seconds,” said a student (clearly a member of the SnapChat generation).

Thirty seconds.

Fifteen seconds.

One minute – no more!

I have to admit, I was shocked. I guess my Gen-X attention span wants to see something at least two minutes in length. But when I voiced this, the class challenged me.

My mom is ALWAYS trying to make me watch videos, and if they’re two minutes I tell her I just don’t have the time.” Compared to someone’s mom, always a compliment.

Anything you can say in two minutes, you can say in thirty seconds . . .”

After a healthy debate, I had to give this one to the kids. Video content MUST be short. We knew this already. Commercials aren’t coming in at two hours long. Sure, we’ve had magnum opus movies that have run hours and hours and hours (“Hang on Rose! Just hang on!), but for the most part, our ever-shrinking attention spans can watch only an hour-plus worth of big screen entertainment – even if it’s Michael Bay or Meryl Streep. We get bored.

The proliferation of micro-messaging, whether it online casino be through compatible sites like Vine or SnapChat or simply the classic YouTube, has trained the public to want SHORT bursts of video. Two minutes seems like an eternity. Before you scoff at this and think to yourself, “Oh, millenials. So quick to move on from anything that takes effort,” hear this: It isn’t just a youth-centric desire.

How do I know this? The #ALSChallenge. This hashtag – this movement — upended how we perceive social video content. Think about it: How many videos did you watch? From your friends? From your family? And what were they like?

Everyone has the same answer — they were short and to the point, and had a powerful pay-off after 30 seconds. This is the formula to replicate if you’re going to be using video as part of your content scheme. This is significant. It’s what drove over $100 million to the ALS Association.

The young minds at Temple were a crystal ball, letting me see into the future of video content. To be considered engaging video – to win over the millions of people who watched the #ALSChallenge videos – you must:

  1. Keep it short: 30 seconds or less. If you go over, call George Lucas for some special effects.
  2. Give a pay-off: laughs, tears or gasps. We are all human, we crave drama.
  3. Make it something you’d want to share: timing and location matter, not whatever’s going on in your company’s little world.

I’m not knocking long-form video by any means. I enjoy the Avengers. That’s good stuff. That’s a quality film made by talented writers, editors and directors. But long form is dead on YouTube. The shorties have taken over, and we need to embrace it.

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About the Author

Matthew Ray

Creative Director and Co-Founder of ChatterBlast, Matthew Ray is a fan of comic books, ice cream and sitcoms from the late 1980s.

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