How long is a piece of string? There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to the length of online videos. It is not as though you are paying for airtime for a TV commercial which would restrict you to 30 seconds. Instead, you have the freedom to think about how to get your message across most effectively – whether that be in 30 seconds or 30 minutes.
When producing an online video, it is because you want someone to watch it. So when deciding how long your online video should be, there are a number of things to consider in order to make it as accessible and conducive to its purposes as possible.
What is the aim of your online video?
The aim of your video will help you decide how long it should be. Coupled with this should be a consideration for how people are likely to watch your videos. For example, if you are making an educational video through which you are hoping to share a lot of information and ideas, a longer video is more acceptable. Audiences watching educational videos are more likely to pause it and take notes. Or watch it all of the way through, and then watch it again to take notes.
Top tip: when making longer videos for educational or training purposes, consider making a collection of shorter videos e.g. ‘chapters’ or ‘levels’. These can be easier for people to digest.
If the aim of your video is marketing, it is likely you will want to entertain. It is not necessarily the case that a marketing video should be 30 seconds long. The joy of online video is the freedom! You don’t need to restrict yourself unnecessarily. A large proportion of the people who watch YouTube videos are looking for entertainment. The length of your video isn’t the issue in this case, the content is what counts. If you content is good, viewers will keep watching. If it is poor, they will switch off. Simples. (If you are really good, bits of your script may make it into every day language).
Who is your audience?
Not that I am one to state the obvious but it is fair to say that you need to consider your audience when making a video. Without wanting to generalise, attention spans are becoming shorter. The MTV generation are accustomed to fast cut editing. Older people are generally more patient and can enjoy slower paced videos.
Depending on who is watching it, a short video can seem to last forever, if cut slowly. Likewise a fast cut video can seem a lot shorter than it actually was. Be aware of this when producing your videos. Consider testing rough cuts on focus group audiences if you have time and capacity. Otherwise, use as much common sense as you can muster.
What is the genre/style of your online video?
A consideration of the genre your video fits into is also helpful. This doesn’t mean you have to stick to any particular rules. Take for example the rise in perfume commercials which are like 30 second mini-Hollywood productions that somehow tell a whole romantic story before you have had a chance to blink.
If your video is a music parody, you would expect it to be the length of the song! If you want your video to feel like a commercial, you will want to keep it to less that a minute. A documentary style piece is likely to be longer, depending on what characters and themes you need the time to introduce.
Miss Dior Cherie Commercial starring Natalie Portman
How much information do you need to get across in the video?
Ultimately, you need to know how much information you need to get a across in your video. You then need to think about how you can do this efficiently, in the most engaging manner possible. If you are watching a rough cut and it feels too long, it is worth going through the video scene by scene and asking yourself what shots are simply superfluous, contributing nothing to your overall goals.
Top tip: Give special consideration to your introduction. You have 9/10 seconds to grab the attention of your viewers and I would argue it is therefore the most important part if your video.
Is video the best method for everything you are trying to achieve?
Video might not be the answer to everything you are trying to achieve – be open to this. It may be that you use video as an introduction to some other resources you have on your website for example.
The shortest music video ever
Big brands are seeing online video as an opportunity and are taking advantage of the fact that online video allows them more time than the traditional 30 second TV advert. In the wake of content marketing and a focus on storytelling to emotionally engage audiences, 30 seconds is more like the minimum length of time a video should last. If you look at successful content on YouTube, you will see that they are generally longer than a minute and up to five or six minutes long. There has been no research to suggest a correlation between the length of a video and ‘virality’.
Keep in mind the context within which your viewers will be watching your videos when thinking about length. There are a number of marketing formulas you can use to test your videos against (e.g. AIDA – Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) but be aware that online video is still relatively new and it is an opportunity to experiment as much as it is to conform.