Does Length Matter in Online Video?

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For the past three weeks my research colleague, Bill Sledzik, and I, have been posting segments of our video interview with Brian Connolly, of the mothballed Strumpette blog. Our interview with Brian is part of our sabbatical undertaking, The Sledzik-Curran Social Media Project. We’ll unveil our interviews with six more social media innovators during the rest of the winter. Unlike Brian, these people are unabashed proponents of social media in business and education.

The videos are being streamed through our SledzikCurran Channel on YouTube. I have been tracking the views, and I noticed that the first clip in the series garnered our highest number of plays (234), while the last clip was the least viewed (37). With the exception of a few minor “upticks” in the middle of the series, viewership declined gradually until it hit bottom at the end. I expected this because this is not an episodic piece that builds to a crescendo like a reality show.

There is a simple explanation, for which I tap the memory to recall a lecture by one of my professors at Ohio University: Dr. Richard Vedder, who taught Media Studies Economics, of all things! He was discussing the Principle of Marginal Utility, and he used ice cream cones and “utils of satisfaction” (an imaginary measurement using an ascending scale of 0-10) to explain. On a hot day, you might crave ice cream, so you go to a store and buy a cone. You eat it, it’s refreshing and it tastes wonderful. So you might get 10 utils from that cone. You buy another. It still tastes good, but not as good as the first. Maybe you get 7 utils from the second cone. If you continue to buy cones, you would get fewer utils from each subsequent one. Maybe by the fifth cone, you wouldn’t be able to finish it, giving you 0 utils. Brian said different things in each video clip, but his theme was the same: social media is not necessarily a wonderful way to communicate. Viewers understood his point of view quickly and probably didn’t need to watch beyond the first clip to understand where he stood.

In retrospect, we might have posted fewer, longer clips. It’s a double-edged sword because viewer fatigue could set in with longer clips. They might not have watched the whole segment. Some people might have avoided the clips altogether if they saw a number like 9:51 in the player window. I am certain that we probably would have had far fewer than 234 views for the first video if it was a lot longer. I’m also confident that most viewers who tuned in for a clip watched it from start to finish. My guess is we’ll stick with shorter clips. Decisions such as this are one of many factors that challenge content providers in the social media universe.

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4 thoughts on “Does Length Matter in Online Video?

  1. As someone who has viewed all of the segments, I would first like to thank you for your ongoing efforts. While I completely understand and appreciate your points being made relative to length of content and viewer retention, I’m continually dismayed by the fact that the first video only received 234 views. I’ve recently downloaded an interview with CMO Best Buy, Barry Judge and learned that after several months I was download number 44. I don’t get it. Credible, engaging content is and always will be king, right?. From a professional point of view, where in the hell is everyone?

  2. David:

    First off, thanks very much for watching the clips. We hope you’ll continue watching. The next series will start next week. Bill and I will discuss the schedule over the phone this weekend and let our readers know.

    We are not necessarily disappointed. The main purpose of this series is for use in our courses. We plan to show the clips to students and discuss them. We thought it would be cool to share them with the online world. All of our subjects have given us permission to do so.

    My guess for the limited appeal is that the subject is narrowly focused and more of an intellectual nature. It’s hard to compete with three-legged cats doing somersaults off a roof! People tend to watch the ridiculous and sensational videos on YouTube. Another aspect is the promotion. Bill did a very good job plugging it through his SM outlets and contacts, but we didn’t utilize all of the RSS and tagging tools that are available.

    Thanks again for watching. i hope you’ll be back this week!

  3. Ditto Andy’s comment, and…

    The series with Brian Connolly has a pretty narrow audience consisting largely of those who read the Strumpette blog. While Strumpette’s readership dwarfed that of Andy’s blog or mine, it’s also yesterday’s news. Things in the social media go stale quickly, and when it comes to Strumpette, folks (even those who loved the blog) have simply moved on.

    We also did little to promote the series other than post the clips to our blogs. I sent 1 or 2 messages via Twitter each day, but I’m guessing fewer than 100 of my 400-or-so followers are interested in this stuff. It’s also telling that the “true believers” in social media (and I know many of them watched at least some of the clips) didn’t link to it, as they didn’t want to be seen as traitors to the clan. Links are the currency of the blogosphere, and people don’t spend them on things that piss them off. Whatever.

    On the academic side, however, Brian puts forth a number of points that we believe are worthy of discussion — regardless of your views on the future of social media.

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