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I’m Not Watching Your Online Video Because It’s Too Long

I read some research recently that indicated more than 66% of online video viewers turn it off at the two minute mark. True or not, it’s pretty close to my experience. For a captive audience at a live event, banquet, or other presentation – fine, you can go longer.  But when it comes to an online video – keep it short.  But I continue to see more and more corporate videos, donor development presentations, and promotional video projects at 8, 10, or even 15 minutes. When I ask “Why?” I get the same old answer: “We just had so much information to share.”

Baloney.  Online producers understand one big rule:  Print is about information. Video is about emotion.

If you want to clobber your audience with the sheer weight of numbers like sales figures, how many people you’re feeding, outreach statistics, product specs – then write it up in written form and hand it out.  They can read at their convenience.

But when it comes to an online audience, they’ll always connect better through meaning and emotion.  Inspire them, don’t just inform them.

In the Wall Street Journal recently, columnist Peggy Noonan said something similar about political speeches:

“Politicians give 54-minute speeches when they don’t know what they’re trying to say but are sure the next sentence will tell them. So they keep talking. They keep saying sentences in the hope that meaning will finally emerge from one of them. A 54-minute speech is not a sign of Fidel-like confidence, or a love for speaking. A 54-minute speech is a sign of desperation.”

She went on to describe a particular speech by then President Obama:

“It was a speech about everything—renewable energy, tax credits, Abraham Lincoln, tax loopholes, deficit imbalances, infrastructure, research and development incentives. But a speech about everything is a speech about nothing. I listened once and read it twice: It wasn’t a case for re-election, it was a wordage dump.”

An effective online video – like a political speech – is not a “wordage dump.” It’s about meaning. It’s about moving your audience toward action.

Short films and online videos can be one of the most effective ways to connect with an audience. But next time, keep it moving, give it meaning, and keep it short.

What’s the worst problem you’ve seen with online videos?

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10 Comments

  1. Length is definitely a big issue. The more the length of a video exceeds two minutes, the less likely I am to take time to watch it. Pre-roll ads over 15 seconds are also an inducement to leave. Deep well audio from poor condenser mikes is also distracting. If the audio is bad, I’m more likely to make a premature exit. Proportions are also important especially with mobile. Irritating to watch a tiny speck on a massive stage with a 4-inch screen.

  2. I’m a voice over professional and media consultant, and I can tell you that shorter is better! Unless it’s a how to, 2-minutes is even way too long, closer one would be better. I’ve noted that if there is a series of parts that are shorter, people will skip right along through the entire set, but dump out of the longer pieces. And I agree with Chris, bad audio is a killer! People seem obsessed with the “cool” video or graphics, but a bad VO, scratchy, echoing, boxy, muffled, over-driven, or soft audio will kill the piece very quickly. I won’t even begin to describe what stuff looks like on the tiny smart phone screens.

  3. I do a lot of my browsing on the iPhone, on the go, and IF the video works, I can’t watch them. If I’m at my computer, I’m working and don’t have time for video. Even if it’s instructional, just give me the text and some screen shots.

  4. For me, it depends on the content, but yes, the first 2 minutes is what either tells me what I need to know, tells me whether I want to hear more, or if I just want to hit stop and just read about it.
    If I know it is supposed to be a documentary, then I expect it to be longer, however I often save it for when I have more time, or just don’t bother, and I read an article about it instead.
    I am amazed at some of these sales voice-over videos now, and how they keep repeating themselves. I often think that they could fit it all in less time, if they would only spend a little time editing.

  5. First worst problem – 0 continuity, the script – if it exists – is poorly written. Second worst problem – shots do not match and have been taken by several cameras. Third worst problem – complete lack of audience awareness – as in who are we talking to, what’s the purpose and what are we trying to accomplish … 2 minutes? With GEN X, Y and Z you might get 20 seconds!

  6. Exactly. In my corporate video experience, the challenge is always to limit the scope of the message. Find a story, tell it, and move on. Break it up into several shorter videos if necessary.

  7. May this spare many of us valuable minutes of our time on the rare occasions that we are tempted to give too much attention to a promising video. I expect the need to adhere to these guidelines to become increasingly important as the proliferation of video content continues.

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