Last week, we went over the benefits of short, bite-sized videos (quick recap: they’re good for business). This week, we’re going to talk about the exact opposite type of video – long-form. Before we dig into the differences between the two we need to make up our minds about naming conventions. If short videos are “bite-sized”, what are long videos? Do we refer to them as “lunch videos” or “entree videos”? Personally, I’m leaning towards “footlong videos,” because it takes me 10 minutes to eat a full Subway sub, and because it also happens to be the IAB’s (Interactive Advertising Bureau) standard length for longform video.

But it all depends on what you consider “long.” Back in the early naughts, YouTube decided that videos should be under 10 minutes (a decision Google has since overturned), but certain media executives and ad planners would still raise their eyebrows at anything over 2-5 minutes, and for good reason. At a glance, longer videos cost more all around but enjoy lower engagement than shorter videos.

long form video

This graph comes courtesy of Wistia, a video hosting platform that did a May 2012 study of the thousands of business videos they host. As you can see, videos under 30 seconds see some viewer drop-off — as much as 20% by the halfway point, and up to 40% by video’s end. Footlong videos, on the other hand, suffer an average drop-off rate of 55%, and an endpoint drop-off rate of around 70%. Clearly, shorter video is more engaging.

But when you really look at the numbers, you might notice that the drop-off rate for longer videos isn’t as bad as it should be. If a 30-second video suffers from 20% average drop-off, then a 600-1200 second video (more than 20-40x as long!) should practically have no viewers. But that’s not what the numbers tell us — the average drop-off rate for 10-20 minute videos is only 55%. This means that viewer engagement drops drastically over the first 5 minutes of a video…but then gradually levels out. In fact, videos between 5-20 minutes in length all enjoy, on average, over 50% engagement.

If this is surprising, it’s only because we’ve only been looking at footlong videos from the point of view of engagement — and not accounting for how much of the pie chart they actually dominate in terms of sheer minutes. Fortunately, Ooyala’s 2013 Q1 state of online video report clarifies things.

ooyala longform video

While the breakdown of TV videos isn’t surprising, the numbers for desktop, smartphone, and tablet video consumption are very surprising (at least for those of us who aren’t industry insiders). Across all 3 digital channels, videos over 10 minutes account for over 47% of all video watched in the first quarter of 2013. When you include TVs, videos longer than 10 minutes make up 54% of all video watched on all devices.

Not only is this wonderful news for ad planners looking to make more money off the extra advertisements they can squeeze into footlong videos, it’s wonderful news for big and small business, period. When 20% of all viewers aren’t even watching 30-second videos to completion, then 100% engagement rate isn’t the goal. As Wistia puts it, if you get someone to watch your 45-minute video, “you’ve probably just created a super fan. A few of these are more valuable than 10,000 viewers who watch three seconds and then get bored!”

When it comes down to it, long-form videos are worth it. They make up over half of the online video market and are much better at conveying a message than shorter videos. And while they require more of an upfront investment from viewers, they also create your biggest fans. Like novels, long-form videos are hard to make and hard to get right, but the payoff can be incredible.

Long Video Pros:

  • enjoy decreasing viewer drop-off past the 5-minute mark

  • make up over 54% of the online video pie (as of 2013)

  • have many more opportunities for ad placement

Long Video Cons:

  • higher upfront cost

  • lower engagement than short, bite-sized videos

In our next post, we’ll go over best practices for longer videos and provide samples of great, footlong business videos. Stay tuned, and keep shooting!