Does Length Matter in Online Video?


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.