Compuschmooze May 2014: Videos get shorter but viewers stay longer

A portion of the crowd at BarCamp News Innovations Philly at Temple University in early May 2014. Jason Hwang of Google's YouTube division told one session that while videos are getting shorter, the time people spend on the YouTube site is getting longer. (Steve Lubetkin photo)
A portion of the crowd at BarCamp News Innovations Philly at Temple University in early May 2014. Jason Hwang of Google's YouTube division told one session that while videos are getting shorter, the time people spend on the YouTube site is getting longer. (Steve Lubetkin photo)

Editor’s note: This column is crossposted from the Jewish Community Voice of Southern New Jersey. You can see the original column there.

It seems like web developers are convinced that the world’s attention span for any kind of information is getting shorter and shorter.

A few years ago, when YouTube debuted, video producers were advised to keep their programs under three minutes in length, because online audiences wouldn’t have the patience to watch anything longer.

Based on some of the newer services and their duration limits, three minute videos could be epic-length films, like “Gone with the Wind.”

Vine.co, the looping video service owned by Twitter, allows users to produce short (about six seconds) videos that repeat as long as you are looking at them. Snapchat lets you send messages to your friends that disappear from the timeline after 10 seconds, although the service recently introduced a “stories” option that lets you connect multiple images and videos, and keeps those posts visible for up to 24 hours.

Two NFL teams, the New York Jets and the New Orleans Saints, got a lot of publicity for using Snapchat stories to announce their 2014 schedules. The Jets used images of the opposing team’s helmets, and the Saints used action photos from previous contests.

Another new service we’ve heard about is called Tout, which lets Android and iPhone users create 15-second video reports about events they are attending, which are instantly uploaded and shared over the Tout platform with friends and followers.

Tout’s business model includes pricing for professional and large company service levels that add the ability to publish the reports automatically to your website.

You might think 15 seconds is not enough time to tell a story. Think again.

Already, the service has attracted mainstream media like the Wall Street Journal, the San José Mercury, and the BBC, whose reporters are using Tout to send back near-instant reporting on world events. On the Journal’s Tout channel reporters Patrick McGroarty and Devon Maylie are filing video clips from elections in Soweto, South Africa. Heather Haddon is covering New Jersey hearings on the George Washington Bridge traffic jam inquiry, and other reports show the devastation of the recent landslide in northern Afghanistan that killed hundreds of villagers. Bloomberg TV is interviewing its correspondents about their summer reading lists.

It reminds me of what we used to call “sound bites” or “actualities,” the short recordings of an actual event that get dropped into a radio or TV news report. There seem to be thousands of them, and lots of people seem to want to watch them.

The ironic thing about this rush to make content shorter is that it flies in the face of new research from Google (which owns YouTube) about online viewing habits.

Last month I attended the Barcamp News Innovations conference at Temple University’s Annenberg Center, where Jason Hwang, YouTube’s product manager for local news, reported – among other things – that the average length of a user’s YouTube visits had increased to 15 minutes. This suggests that YouTube visitors are getting more engaged with the content, or that viewers are finally getting comfortable watching longer-form video in an online format.

It seems to me there is a place for both short, unedited spot reporting like you find on Tout and Vine, and also for more carefully produced programs, which are starting to get traction on YouTube and the portfolio-oriented site Vimeo.com. And of course, viewers can vote with their mouse clicks to let us know what they prefer.

Write to me at steve@compuschmooze.com about your online video viewing. What kind of videos do you look for on YouTube and other sites?

 

 

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