Debunking the short-form content myths

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Human attention spans are getting shorter, says almost everybody. So why are people spending more and more time with long-form content? 


Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2, the 2nd highest-grossing movie of the year so far, clocks in at 2:21 hours.

We’ve all heard the cliches, too often presented as “facts”: humans can only absorb content in short bursts, vying for attention on your Facebook news feed. Our attention spans are now at the same level as the poor, maligned goldfish. We are told by experts at marketing conferences that the “ideal” length for video content is 30 seconds because “Millennials” can’t handle anything longer than a minute or so. Even the President of the United States now sums up complex foreign policy in less than 140 characters. (Sad!)

For everyone who accepts all of this at face value, step back for a minute and think again. If we really had the attention span of a goldfish, would any one of us be able to leave a room? Wouldn’t we forget how we got there or where the door was or how a doorknob worked? Or for that matter, how could humans drive a car, fly a plane or file a tax return? Are we really so unfocused or easily distracted?

Think of your own content consumption as a consumer. How much time are you willing to spend with a movie or your favorite TV show?

The second most popular film of 2017 (so far), Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2, which made over USD 800 million at the box office, has a running time of 141 minutes. The #1 movie with over a billion dollars, Beauty and the Beast, clocks in at two hours and nine minutes. Arguably the hottest show on television today, Game of Thrones, is already running at around 67 hours! (Thereabouts, anyways. I can’t remember how many two-hour episodes there were.) And there’s still one more season to go!

It may surprise you to learn that, according to research by video technology company Ooyala, long-form video is now the most popular form of content consumed online. Long-form content (defined as greater than 20 minutes in length) now represents the majority of time spent watching video across all screen sizes: desktop, mobile, tablet and connected TVs.

The magical formula that dictates your video must only be 90-120 seconds  is a myth propagated by companies who want to sell you 90-120 sec videos (and the platforms that carry them).  I was recently reminded of how this misconception is propagated when I found myself quoted (out of context) in an article that argues short-form video is the “next big thing.”

It’s not true that people today will only watch short videos. What most consumers are unwilling to watch for longer than a couple of minutes is bad content: content that’s poorly conceived, with a thinly-veiled yet obvious commercial message, designed to interrupt you as you’re trying to get to the actual content you wanted to see in the first place.

The fact is that if the content is good, as the entertain industry demonstrates, consumers are willing to watch for hours and hours non-stop. The challenge for brands is how to develop content that is interesting enough, offers true value and features characters and a narrative that compels the viewer to follow all the way to the end.

If your brand has an amazing story to tell, breaking the 90-second video mold is the way to stand out. VISA’s delightful Thai-language #TokyoUnexpected mini movie clocks in at nearly 15 minutes and has already over 10 million views on Facebook (mostly organic).

Even a B2B player like industry giant GE regularly shares its many technical innovations through a series of videos, from cool things they do with drone technology to power plants, each clocking in at over five minutes each.

That’s not to say short-form content doesn’t have its place. Marketers need to think of short videos in the way that Hollywood uses trailers or preview clips: easy entry points leading to the main event. Or how comedians like John Oliver have used short clips to build a YouTube audience as large as his HBO audience. The problem is that many marketers confuse one medium with the other, treating the short form route as if it was the main content. And just as Hollywood has learned to do, marketers must also learn to convey a brand story with a Transmedia mindset, across multiple platforms and formats.

Whatever approach you decide, make sure to avoid that other great video content myth: that the content you produce, in order to be considered successful, has to go “viral.”


What talent contests can teach you about getting a job

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Talent auditions are not very different from any other job interview. Here are five useful lessons from the SingTel Casting Call 2011 that can be applied to any job application.

Singtel Casting Call 2011, originally uploaded by phatfreemiguel.

Talent contests! From American Idol to The Voice, anyone who works in the media industry should be familiar with the format by now. Recently I had the privilege of being a judge at the SingTel Casting Call 2011, an open audition for the host of an upcoming made-for-Youtube weekly technology & lifestyle programme. We reviewed over 300 online submissions collected through SingTel’s Facebook page, culled the list down to 15 finalists and then had them appear in person before a panel of judges. The winner was announced last Friday. (You can watch “Episode 0” of the programme here.)

With interview process and the deliberations between judges that followed, I couldn’t help but think about the similarities between a talent competition and the typical employment application / job interview situation. I realized the rules applied by judges in a talent competition (whether singing, dancing, modeling or, in this case, hosting a show) are the same as when an employer reviews candidates for a role in their company. Whether you’re going for a job at a new company or looking to shift roles internally, here are five useful “audition” tips to remember:

1. Know the judges / interviewers.

Google is your friend. Before heading to the audition, find out who is going to sit in the judging panel and see what a Google search turns up about them. Find out where they have worked, what they do, what their interests and passions are. This will allow you to either bring up a topic that you know is close to the heart of the judges OR avoid topics that might offend. During the SingTel Casting Call, candidates who talked about the environment drew the interest of judge Nadya Hutagalung, renowned environmentalist and Earth Hour ambassador. But this can also cut both ways! If you over-extend yourself on a topic that the judges are experts in, you can also easily be caught out and may be penalized for it.

2. Check your own online footprint.

Google is your enemy. You have to assume that judges will research who you are before the audition. So if there are any skeletons in your closet – ugly comments you wish you didn’t make, criminal records, that photo of you in a Nazi SS uniform, etc – make sure you are prepared with answers in case the judges bring them up. You can’t erase the past but you can prepare for the inevitable grilling. Alternatively, if your search result reveals a lot of good things about your career, this is your moment to call attention to those highlights.

3. Be memorable.

In a typical audition, casting directors or judges may have to go through dozens of candidates. (Hundreds in some cases.) Your job is to stand out in the crowd. Pick the traits that you think will be of value to the judges and make sure you embody them perfectly. Make sure you are remembered for the right things, though. You want to be remembered as “the pretty standup comedian” or “the taekwondo black belt who can sing” NOT “the one with bad breath”. Whatever it is, there is nothing worse than not being remembered at all. The worst case would be for you bump into one of the judges in a party later and they can’t even remember having met you.

4. Focus on what you bring to the table.

To paraphrase John F Kennedy, ask not what the show can do for you but what you can do for the show. Now is not the time to focus on how the show is going to improve your career or serve as your stepping stone to greater things. It’s not about you. Instead, talk about how your presence will benefit the show. Emphasize how much more successful the show will be if you were in it because of the unique cocktail of talents you bring to the table.

5. Show how much you want the job.

Enthusiasm counts for a lot. Often a good attitude and a willingness to learn can overcome gaps in experience or event talent. Look at how much time and effort went into the entry by Joanne-Marie Sim (who went on to win the SingTel Casting Call competition). On top of her great performance and charming personality, this video told all the judges: “Here’s a girl who will work hard for this show!”

TGIS (brought to you by SingTel) premieres on 7 December. Look for it on SingTel’s Youtube channel.