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Want More Online Viewers? Make It Shorter

I’ve been teaching for a long time that too many churches and religious organizations are making a huge mistake by only posting full length sermons and teachings on either their website or podcasts. Certainly it’s fine (and a good idea) to archive your live stream, media programming, and other content in full online. However, when it comes to people actually viewing it, it’s an “ergonomic” thing. People will obviously watch full length TV programs, live streams, and movies on their mobile devices, but when it comes to your short films and video presentations, people generally want their web content in smaller “chunks” so they can digest it in reasonable bites.

For the most part, people view content on the web in short spurts – even when it comes to entertainment.  So here’s how to think about your online content:

  1.  There are places where people will view the longer form programming, so it’s good your full content is online.  As I mentioned, I will watch a movie from Netflix or Apple TV at home, or other movies on a plane or in a hotel room.  But for the most part, I want much shorter pieces – particularly when it comes to church or ministry content.
  2. Check out this article from CNN/ from a decade ago.  If it was true then, our attention spans are even shorter now.  If you doubt me, read the book “The Shallows” by Nicholas Carr.
  3. At a recent technology summit I attended in Hollywood, the major digital players shared that they’re seeing a maximum viewing time of 7 minutes for a video.  Any longer, and you start losing significant numbers of viewers.

Believe me – it’s worth it to have someone edit your longer content down into 5-7 minute segments.  I suggest you do both – a full length copy and an edited version and offer your followers a choice.  More people are likely to use the shorter clips, which makes your outreach far more effective.


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  1. Really appreciated Phil, you have taught us a lot and our yesHEis team have appreciated the training you have done for us in several locations around the Globe. yesHEis is a tool for Christians to be able to share the Gospel and we appreciate the support Phil gives us.
    If anyone wants further details feel free to e mail me…

    1. Michael is right. Traditionally, research has shown that 66% of the audience will stop viewing after 2 minutes. But at a recent technology summit in Hollywood, major digital players like YouTube, FB, Vice, Crackle, and others agreed that it’s expanded to 7 minutes. As consumers grow more used to watching videos on their mobile devices, their more comfortable watching longer pieces. My recommendation is to keep it within 2-6 minutes.

  2. The key to good communication: Brevity. But you also need to capture attention quickly – if you don’t grab the audience in the first 30 seconds, they aren’t likely to watch even a 5 minute video.

  3. Also, Facebook recently adjusted their algorithm to favor longer videos. In the past it had been based on percentage of the video viewed, which highly favored short videos. Now, they are adjusting the algorithm to take into account how long the video is. So, it should mean that well-executed longer form videos will start to get higher placement as long as people are watching a decent chunk of the video.

  4. good insights Phil – and something I tell all up and coming media types and communicators – if you can say it in half the time, do that, wordiness kills, especially in the digital marketplace.

  5. Great advice Phil! I’d say Facebook Live is changing the strategy a bit. Compared to pre-recorded content. You need to spend the first minute or so presenting while people join and telling them to ask questions, interact with what you are saying.

    1. Yes – and I’d put a Facebook video into a slightly different category. I would consider that more like a “webcast” and you’re exactly right. One the leaders at Sony’s online platform “Crackle” told me they’re getting a good response with 50 minute programs.

  6. In our social marketing, we’ve begun rolling out one-minute excerpts of our half hour program, then linking back to the full program. A lot more people will watch if the video shows 1:00 rather than 28:30, and if they’re really interested, will click thru.

    LightSource for about a year now on their site starts with the clip and then provides the option to watch the long-form content, though customers such as ourselves can opt for just the full episode. The reason we opted out is because LightSource is one of the locations we’re forwarding people already with our digital marketing.

  7. Completely agree with the above post. In fact I suggest three ways of providing content 1. A full length copy – always useful for someone who wants to delve deep into a subject.
    2. An edited digestible version in less than 5-7 min
    3. A edited digestible version with value addition.

    By value addition I mean instead of just clipping a video and releasing it, how about investing little more efforts into it and making it richer by effectively using pictures, music etc.

    For instance have a look at this video we made recently out of a church sermon. Link here:

    Instead of just providing an excerpted version, we took the main points and made a story out of it.

    Does it make sense?

  8. Phil – what would you recommend for Youtube Interviews similar to what you and I did a few months ago? Should I have take that interview and put it into 7-10 minute clips?

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