Short-Form vs. Long-Form: Does Video Length Impact Virality?

Short Form vs. Long Form: Does Video Length Impact Virality?

It used to be that YouTube was a place for short-form cat videos, pranks, and baby clips to go viral. While that's still true, most of us know that today YouTube is much, much more than that. Now YouTube entails everything from hundreds of featured films to weblebrities to a community that surrounds pretty much anything you can think of.

Along with the changing landscape of YouTube comes the question; Is the notion still true that videos must be super-short, no longer than two minutes long, especially if you want them to go viral?

What's Important for Viral Success? Long-Form vs. Short-Form

While being clear and concise is still very important, videos go viral all the time now that range from 10 minutes (Cain's Arcade) to 30 minutes (KONY 2012) long. And many of the top YouTubers are regularly posting videos over 20 minutes long that earn very high audience retention scores.

Thanks to the progression of online video, people are becoming more and more used to watching long-form content on the web. Hulu is certainly to thank for this, but YouTube itself is pushing this forward by offering movies and removing the old 10 minute limit (now 15 minutes for non-partners) on video uploads.

So what does that mean for us content creators?

1) Dont Worry About Length, Worry About Making Engaging Content

It's no longer as important to keep your video to only a few minutes long. While it may still help with audience retention, sharability, and the A.D.D. nature of many who watch online video, it is in no way a crucial element of successful YouTube videos anymore.

2) The First 15 Sec. is Really What's Important

Short Form vs. Long Form: Does Video Length Impact Virality?What's much more important now than the total length of the video is the first 15 seconds of the video. Those first 15 seconds must capture the viewer's attention and set the stage for answering this question for the viewer: "Why must I watch this video?" Similar to how a public speaker must capture the audience's attention in the first two minutes for the content ahead, so we must do the same with online video, except with all the other voices and videos competing for their views, we only have 15 seconds to do it. Instead of starting your video with a branded logo or intro, think through the first few seconds of your video very carefully. Set a high expectation and don't let the audience down.

What do you think?  Is it still as important to worry about the overall video length in terms of generating enough engagement to make a video go viral?

About the Author -
Tim Schmoyer is the host of ReelSEO's Creator's Tip and the author of "30 Days to a Better YouTube Channel". You can see some of his personal videos on his Family Vlog Channel. View All Posts By -

What do you think? ▼
  • michaeltapp

    I have been doing a lot of lean-back viewing of online video lately during meal breaks. For my meal breaks ten minutes is about the perfect length of video. I am not going watch five consecutive two minute videos during a lunch break. That would be too much clicking!

  • SnobbyRobot

    I agree, ad I've said as much on my blog. Short, viral videos are going to get people to watch your video once, but if you just focus on making quality videos people will subscribe and keep coming back for more. This is especially true of narrative content. 

  • Rob Chapman

    Obviously engaging content is the key, but even beyond that is relevance. Kony for instance struck a cord w/ a generation young idealists fighting for injustice, whereas a "quick tip" at 10min is NOT quick! I'd much rather see those broken up into 1-3min clips OR have obvious chapter jumpers if I'm losing interest. It, for one may keep otherwise disinterested viewers interested...

  • Matt Ballek

    Your thumbnail tricked me into thinking this was a video. I see what you're doing there.

  • ReelSEO

    ;-)

  • lawmed10

    Who has time to watch a 10 or even 20 min video?

    Most people don't want to wait for the 15 minute mark to get an answer to their question.

    I still think the sweet spot is 2-3 mins for educational video.

    • timschmoyer

       @lawmed10 Apparently hundreds of millions of people have time to watch 10 or 20 minute videos. It happens on TV all the time. Why not online, especially since top YouTubers are already doing it. Most of the ShayTards daily videos are over 20 minutes long and they have over 1 million subscribers and upload additional content to other channels every day, as well.

  • http://hennerberg.com Gary Hennerberg

    Interesting post and discussion. 10 minutes can seem long, but you're right: make the content engaging and grab them in the first few seconds. Then 10 minutes can fly by. I'm reminded of the disagreement between short-form and long-form direct mail letters. Almost everyone says they don't read a long letter, but often testing will reveal its the long-form letter that brought in the most conversions. Recently we divvyed up about 22 minutes of long-form video into 4 videos, each 4 to 6 minutes in length. The first video in the series is the shortest, and viewers are encouraged to opt-in to watch more. When they do, they get immediate access to the 2nd video. The 3rd and 4th video are released a few days later as part of a spaced-repetition marketing strategy. 

  • videoleadsonline

    I think (wait for it....) It Depends!
    Yeah here it is again... It depends on the content, and the audience. Younger crowds usually won't wait very long before moving on, if they are not engaged right away!
     
    I still think your video has a better chance of getting watched if it is 3 min. or less. If it is a viral candidate maybe the length doesn't matter, but planning on your content being Viral is silly IMO. Just make good content and 'they (and other strange factors) choose what goes viral'.
     
    I have made informational videos for a while now and it still surprises me, that the length doesn't matter as long as the subject matter is worthy of it. Technical how-tos can have longer lengths than the non-technical, IMO.
     
    Thanks for the discussion Tim.

  • julian_jippidy

    I think for the most part, the safe answer is still the short-form. I know there are obviously exceptions to the rule, but there has to be a VERY compelling reason for a viewer to even give you those first 15 seconds when watching an online video with a duration greater than 3 minutes. I know me personally, the first thing I do is look at the length of the video - anything longer than 1.5-2 minutes and I'm giving it ZERO seconds of my time unless I feel like I HAVE to because I'm gonna be missing out on pop culture relevance.
     
    Caine's Arcade - I didn't watch it until I saw the 10th person on my FB Wall say it was a must-watch video. Despite ALL the buzz and a majority of my friends posting the KONY video, I still haven't watched it because 30 minutes seems like a big-time commitment (I know I should give the 30 minutes for the cause, but that's a separate matter). And I'm more inclined to watch these longer videos because I'm involved in the online video space, and I still don't watch them very often. 
     
    But I'll watch pretty much any 30-second video if the title or thumbnail look interesting because it's a low risk investment. So I believe the odds are greatly in your favor by opting for short form.

  • LouiseMcGing

    Let's face it.  Kony 2012 is an anomaly.  It went viral because it got picked up by a large Christian network and reposted a gazillion times everywhere. For all other virals branded or otherwise, keep it short and engaging.

  • michaeltapp

    I have been doing a lot of lean-back viewing of online video lately during meal breaks. For my meal breaks ten minutes is about the perfect length of video. I am not going watch five consecutive two minute videos during a lunch break. That would be too much clicking!

  • SnobbyRobot

    I agree, ad I've said as much on my blog. Short, viral videos are going to get people to watch your video once, but if you just focus on making quality videos people will subscribe and keep coming back for more. This is especially true of narrative content. 

  • Rob Chapman

    Obviously engaging content is the key, but even beyond that is relevance. Kony for instance struck a cord w/ a generation young idealists fighting for injustice, whereas a "quick tip" at 10min is NOT quick! I'd much rather see those broken up into 1-3min clips OR have obvious chapter jumpers if I'm losing interest. It, for one may keep otherwise disinterested viewers interested...

  • Matt Ballek

    Your thumbnail tricked me into thinking this was a video. I see what you're doing there.

  • ReelSEO

    ;-)

  • lawmed10

    Who has time to watch a 10 or even 20 min video?

    Most people don't want to wait for the 15 minute mark to get an answer to their question.

    I still think the sweet spot is 2-3 mins for educational video.

    • timschmoyer

       @lawmed10 Apparently hundreds of millions of people have time to watch 10 or 20 minute videos. It happens on TV all the time. Why not online, especially since top YouTubers are already doing it. Most of the ShayTards daily videos are over 20 minutes long and they have over 1 million subscribers and upload additional content to other channels every day, as well.

  • http://hennerberg.com Gary Hennerberg

    Interesting post and discussion. 10 minutes can seem long, but you're right: make the content engaging and grab them in the first few seconds. Then 10 minutes can fly by. I'm reminded of the disagreement between short-form and long-form direct mail letters. Almost everyone says they don't read a long letter, but often testing will reveal its the long-form letter that brought in the most conversions. Recently we divvyed up about 22 minutes of long-form video into 4 videos, each 4 to 6 minutes in length. The first video in the series is the shortest, and viewers are encouraged to opt-in to watch more. When they do, they get immediate access to the 2nd video. The 3rd and 4th video are released a few days later as part of a spaced-repetition marketing strategy. 

  • http://www.videoleadsonline.com/ videoleadsonline

    I think (wait for it....) It Depends!
    Yeah here it is again... It depends on the content, and the audience. Younger crowds usually won't wait very long before moving on, if they are not engaged right away!
     
    I still think your video has a better chance of getting watched if it is 3 min. or less. If it is a viral candidate maybe the length doesn't matter, but planning on your content being Viral is silly IMO. Just make good content and 'they (and other strange factors) choose what goes viral'.
     
    I have made informational videos for a while now and it still surprises me, that the length doesn't matter as long as the subject matter is worthy of it. Technical how-tos can have longer lengths than the non-technical, IMO.
     
    Thanks for the discussion Tim.

  • julian_jippidy

    I think for the most part, the safe answer is still the short-form. I know there are obviously exceptions to the rule, but there has to be a VERY compelling reason for a viewer to even give you those first 15 seconds when watching an online video with a duration greater than 3 minutes. I know me personally, the first thing I do is look at the length of the video - anything longer than 1.5-2 minutes and I'm giving it ZERO seconds of my time unless I feel like I HAVE to because I'm gonna be missing out on pop culture relevance.
     
    Caine's Arcade - I didn't watch it until I saw the 10th person on my FB Wall say it was a must-watch video. Despite ALL the buzz and a majority of my friends posting the KONY video, I still haven't watched it because 30 minutes seems like a big-time commitment (I know I should give the 30 minutes for the cause, but that's a separate matter). And I'm more inclined to watch these longer videos because I'm involved in the online video space, and I still don't watch them very often. 
     
    But I'll watch pretty much any 30-second video if the title or thumbnail look interesting because it's a low risk investment. So I believe the odds are greatly in your favor by opting for short form.

  • http://www.ossian.tv/ DM Mgr at Ossian

    Let's face it.  Kony 2012 is an anomaly.  It went viral because it got picked up by a large Christian network and reposted a gazillion times everywhere. For all other virals branded or otherwise, keep it short and engaging.

    • timschmoyer

       @DM Mgr at Ossian Maybe, except it's not just Kony we're talking about and all the stats that come out show that half the videos that are being watched online are over 10 minutes long. Short and engaging is still very viable, but long and engaging is, too.