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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Episode Length: The Never Ending Story

I think that as long as you engage your audience and keep them interested, length shouldn't be an issue. What say you?

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  1. To say length does not matter simply ignores the complexity of the marketplace. Whether you are making a feature length movie or a series of short videos you have to figure out how you are going to reach your audience.

    To imply that we live in the same media environment today as the one that existed in 2005 is equally wrong. The amount of content on the Web has exploded over the years and discovery needs to be part of a larger strategy.

    Now clearly if you have a marketing budget or a major corporation promoting your project then things are a bit different. But how many people here are in that situation? If not, you need to figure out how you are going to reach and grow your audience.

    Now if you make an entertaining movie and put it online and it garners cult status for some reason then you may not have to worry. Then again, you might wait a long time before it gets discovered.

    Many have found that the way to grow an audience is to start small and build by interacting with their viewers. This is really what made Web series blossom in the first place. It is a well tested model.

    If you plan on taking on TV/film with long form content you had better be prepared to deliver at the level of The Newsroom (the topic of the day), Pulp Fiction or Blair Witch to use a few examples. Yes a low budget production might get lucky by tapping into the right dynamic for the time but that does not mean that it is going to work for just any story, no matter how compelling the writer might think it is. Timing and topic can be everything, but it certainly does not mean that in general terms length does not matter.

  2. I watch online content from 15 seconds to 2.5 hrs long. So yes, once you have an audience you can do a lot. But ALL of the long form content that I watch is content that has EARNED my trust from years and years of very very very hard work. You simply do not start out with that luxury.

    If you are new, you have 15 seconds or less to gain my attention unless you come highly recommended from a social media contact who vouches for the value of the content. You better close the sale in 3 minutes or less if you want me to watch more.

    The point many are making is that building and growing an audience is for most a vital part of the process. Most viewers simply do not have 30min - 1hr of time to allocate to something new. That is the harsh reality and with every day that passes it becomes increasingly harder.

    Now if you do not care about the size of the audience and simply hope that one day it might build one then go ahead. If you have a concept that might catch on because it taps in to some social dynamic that is just beginning to crest then go ahead. Someone quoted Ghandi before. What they failed to mention that Ghandi did not just pursue any idea that he thought was right. He carefully monitored the mood of the population and tapped into issues that were "ripe for the plucking". So, yes there maybe certain long form content that can survive based on specific circumstances, but it would be dangerous to think that it will work with any idea/story just because it can be made.

    For most, they are going to have to earn every SECOND of the "audiences" time. If you can entertain them for a few minutes they are likely to come back for more. Once you have earned/built your audience then you can test out alternatives. This is a tried and true method of marketing a series online. It may not be the only one, but its one we know works for those who do not have huge marketing budgets.

  3. Always start short and let the audience dictate if the episodes are too short or too long. At the end of the day, the audience and fanbase you build is going to make the rules. Scripts are pieces of paper, they can be changed or thrown in the bin but you can't throw your fans away if you want your project to be commercial.

  4. I think length, distribution channel and show format all play on one another. I posted a piece a few days ago on this topic here: http://webtvsecrets.com/should-web-video-really-get-longer/

  5. I figure if people are willing to sit and watch an hour-long TV show on Hulu or Amazon or wherever, they will be willing to watch your show -- but you had better deliver and bring them something of equal or greater quality than what they're watching elsewhere.

    1. The advantage Web series have always had is that they can do stuff different from TV. If you attempt to compete head to head, where is your competitive advantage over productions that have a huge budget for BOTH production and marketing.

      It is not only a question of making something. You also have to build an audience.


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