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Monday, August 23, 2010

Episode Length: The Stats

What is a good episode length?

Read the full post and join the conversation:


  1. 3 minute max …. its that simple for most web series.

    Some people prefer longer, but 3 min allows the viewer to slide in an episode while a TV commercial is on.

    If you want to go longer than 3 min you better have something that can compete with prime time TV, that is totally compelling and engaging content.

    There is a ton of content out there. Produce a compelling 3 minutes and you might have a chance of gaining an audience.

    Now, if you are a sponsored show that has front page exposure on a portal site, then the game does change but still be very cautious about going longer than 3 min.

  2. 436 seconds

    I agree with the 3 minute rule at first. But if you prove successful. You have to go longer or your audience will turn on you. Or just leave.

  3. Yea I would agree that AFTER you have built your audience you can feel out the tolerance levels. If you think your show works better with something longer then test it out once you are getting 200,000+ views per video. And of course proceed with caution.

  4. "Hulu didn’t even exist when Temp Life (and I think The Guild) first got started. "

    In terms of web series Hulu was a game changer. What it meant was that instead of competing with Smosh you were competing directly with a multitude of broadcast quality shows. Can you compete with Smallville? Can you compete with Vampire Diaries? Can you compete with Supernatural?

    The real question should be "what is the viewers time worth?" There is an opportunity cost whenever you watch something. The viewer is exchanging time for entertainment. The longer your show lasts the more you are competing directly with broadcast quality shows and the lower your viewership will be (unless you are producing something that has an established audience or is of such compelling quality that it can compete with the alternatives).

    "While I respect ModelMotion’s opinion, especially as it applies to him/her personally, the data contradicts a 3 minute limit."

    Show me how many web series are getting 500,000 views/video. That is my litmus test for a "hit commercial web series" and that is the perspective I take when discussing length. Now if you are quite happy with 1000 views then clearly you can do whatever you want. However, if you want to grow an audience you need to look a little more carefully. You basically have 15 seconds to sell me on your show. If you can then entertain me and sell me on your story line in 3 minutes I might return. If you go beyond 3 minutes then I have to consider explicitly how entertaining you are relative to what is on broadcast TV at that time. It comes down to what the larger audience can handle, not what 1000 viewers can handle.

    Yes, there are established shows that can get away with a slightly longer format. However even they stick to a relatively punchy show. There is not much "slow time" in an episode of the Guild (and remember you need to delete the time for the credits at the end from the length of the web series when you are doing analytics). Web series tend to have a very different dynamic from TV series and definitely from movies.

    I stand by the 3 minute guide length. If you want to build an audience that is the way to go. Once you hook them on your series and are getting 100,000 - 200,000 views then that is the time to consider going beyond 3 minutes.

    Now, I respect everyones freedom to follow their gut and their creative instincts. But, be prepared to limit your audience if you put too much demand on their time. Time is precious and in a web series you need to think in terms of making every second count. It is not like a movie where you have the luxury of making every minute count. I do see a lot of web series make that mistake and while it does create a "mini-movie series" it rarely appeals to a larger audience simply because the time demands on the interwebz are so intense.

    Shoot for 3 minutes and then if you go over in the final cut so be it. It is probably needed. But they key is to shoot for a length that will be palatable to new viewers so that you can actually grow an audience capable of sustaining your production as a commercial entity.

    Now if you see your show as pure art, all bets are off because clearly that responds to different parameters.

  5. By the way, if you have the luxury of casting "stars" in your series the game also changes a little.

    Blackboxtv was a able to get 280,000 views for their first episode.


    How did they do it? Well it did not hurt that they cast youtube stars and used them to pre-load the channel with subscribers. They then used social networking via the star cast to promote the show on Twitter and Facebook.
    If you have that sort of marketing power behind you then clearly you have a little more flexibility when it comes to length. The question is, do you?

    Also note that other than web shows like the Station this model is relatively untested. Only time will tell if the "youtube stars" can bring in a sustainable audience for a dramatic web series as opposed to comedy skits. That should become a bit more clear once the series hits around 10-20 episodes.

  6. I've recently started a poll on the topic of web series episode length. Interestingly enough, there have been no votes yet for a length UNDER 4 minutes.
    If you care to weigh in...

  7. Polls are always tricky. The key is to make sure that you have a statistical sampling of the entire population and not a sub set. For example, most web series creators probably think that a long series is ok. Many viewers think different.

    So try and distribute the poll as widely as you can to make sure everyone is represented by the results. That might be more difficult to do than you think because so many people who read about the topic are actually web series creators.

  8. Some simple math is useful here. If we watch 10 web series a day at 3 min per web series that is 30min. Thats a lot. If we watch 10 web series per day at 10 min each thats 100 min..... or 1hr 40min. That almost certainly means the viewer will be giving up on some prime time TV to watch those 10 web series. Could happen.... but is it likely?

    That said, just make your web series the way you think it plays best. At the same time bear in mind the reality that the length of your show will affect how the viewer responds to your show.......and most viewers already have very busy schedules. If you have an established audience of 100,000 or above then clearly you are already doing something right and probably have more freedom to experiment. Alternatively if you have a large marketing budget then you also have more options.

    However if you are going to grow your viewership from scratch you might do well to consider the parameters that will affect how the viewer will watch your show. Length is one of them. It is not the only one but it is certainly an important one.

  9. In response to a comment on the poll thread:


    Dr. Horrible had Joss Whedon, a known cast, excellent production value etc etc etc........ Not everyone has that so you need to work with the reality that confronts you. For most, you have 15 seconds to sell your viewer on your show before they move on to the next video. That includes demonstrating you have compelling characters, good production value and a story that is worth diving into. Now 15 seconds is not long, and shows can be a hit without following that guide. But, why take the risk? You are diving into a very very very competitive pool.

    Yes your friends and associates will always watch your show (hopefully) but growing a show audience requires that you understand the needs, wants, and desires of your viewers. If you cannot give a reason to watch your show in 15 seconds then why should the viewer give you 10 min?

    Again, there are no rules. That is the point of the internet. So, do what works for you. But if you do not have an audience watching your show then you might want to study where the barriers to entry are preventing that from happening.


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