Television networks are overlooking the opportunity for shorter television shows

When I was a kid, Thursday night was our family’s “TV night”. My dad would come home from work with chips and pop tucked under his arm, my sister and I would need to get our homework finished right after supper, and then at 7PM we’d all squeeze onto our couch and watch TV for a couple of hours. If I recall correctly, it was probably a couple of half-hour comedies followed by a one-hour drama.

Then PVRs changed how we view television: It gave us an opportunity to record shows and watch them when we wanted, while fast-forwarding through commercials. Netflix broadened our options and provided a similar benefit of watching shows we wanted without commercials.

Another benefit, not always considered, is the reduction of the episodic timeframe: A show that once took 30 minutes to watch (with commercials) now takes 22 minutes, and a show that once took 60 minutes to watch (with commercials) now takes 44 minutes. I think people want shorter entertainment, if only to give them the option of more stories in the same amount of time.

I think we see this in YouTube. How often do people find themselves sucked into the blackhole of YouTube, watching short videos… for hours on end? (Guilty!!!) The entertainment draws us in but it’s the shortness of the entertainment that keeps us there. We think “oh, it’s only a 2-minute show” or “oh, it’s only a 5-minute show” so we watch 10 of them in row!

I’m reminded of a friend in college who showed up to class looking very rough. I asked him why he was in such bad shape and he told me that he spent the entire night playing Minesweeper. Each game was only seconds long so “just one more game” of a few seconds lasted the entire night.

The time we spend on a show has shortened, which is not a huge surprise in our tweet-sized, sound-bite, fast-food world. Marketers will tell you that attention spans are diminishing as we’re inundated with content. In spite of this, television shows persist as 22 minute or 44 minute segments. Even Netflix-only shows are about that same standard duration, regardless of the fact that they aren’t burdened with a specific scheduled run-time.

I think the opportunity is ripe for shorter television entertainment. Specifically, we need more 10-15 minute shows.

I’m not presenting an entirely new concept — there are online shows already, whose episodes (often called “webisodes”) are in shorter formats:

  • Of course there are many online-only shows (series and one-off shows) that are well-crafted and entertaining but only a few minutes long.
  • TV shows will do promos, special bonuses, or off-season teasers in the form of webisodes. For exampe: The Office offered a short series of off-season webisodes with regular cast members, and The Walking Dead gave us webisodes with non-cast members that existed in the same universe but outside of the main storyline.
  • BMW entertained us with a few short adventure-style stories in which their cars were featured prominently.
  • A show like Saturday Night Live hints at the opportunity for shorter entertainment, not just because of how the show is presented on TV but also proven by the extended life that some skits get on YouTube.

I think this same short-show concept should be applied to television: Shorter shows in shorter seasons. For example, why not have a 4-episode season, with each show only 15 minutes long? This could work in both comedic formats and dramatic formats. As I write this, I’m reminded of the 6-episode series of shows, each 5 minutes long, on Acorn TV for a show called Girl Number 9.

This will shorten the story cycle, turn shows into one-camera shows, and will also change the cost structure of shows and how shows are monetized.

But this could be a great way to attract audiences looking for shorter entertainment, who will be more willing to watch something if it’s only 15 minutes long. This might also be a great way to test audience reception of a show on a smaller scale (i.e., a network might buy a 4-episode series of 12-minute shows before investing more heavily into a larger season of 22-minute or 44-minute of the same show).

For networks struggling to keep viewers, I think this has a powerful opportunity for the network that does it right.

4 monetization models for video

In a post I wrote yesterday about the impending death of television and the rise of online video, I suggested that one of the overlooked reasons that we’re moving to online video is that the content is shorter. It fits into our day. Yes, the other arguments are valid (we can watch what we want, when we want, on whichever device we want) but we can’t ignore the fact that a 30 or 60 minute show doesn’t necessarily fit with our schedule… but we still want to be entertained. Shorter videos are attracting us away from television and filling our downtime with entertainment opportunities.

There is HUGE, HUGE opportunity in video, both now and into the future. If you are looking to create content — regardless of whether this is information or entertainment — video is a place you can carve out a space for yourself.

But how do you monetize your video content? Here are the two standard monetization models for video that are well-known and frequently used, plus a third model and fourth model that I think are still in the early stages and we’ll see more of in the future. (And I should point out here that I’m talking primarily about entertainment-type videos rather than informational videos, although I realize that the line is pretty blurry).

So here are the four video monetization models that are pretty popular right now:

1. Place ads in your videos

I think this is the default model for new video producers because YouTube makes it so easy to do this. Just create a video, allow advertisements to display, and earn money from the ad. There are YouTube success stories that make this an attractive model for anyone.

Actually, it’s not that different from traditional television monetization models — either a commercial precedes the video or a clickable ad overlays over the video for part of the video. In fact, the networks that post their full episodes to their websites also use commercials, in the traditional sense, inside their videos.

2. Use your entertaining videos to sell something

If you have a product or service to sell, you can create an entertaining video that people will watch — which subtly (or not so subtly) promotes your brand as people watch.

I have two examples. The first example is a little more overt — Super Bowl commercials. They are high quality productions that people intentionally watch to be entertained and good ones are talked about for years to come. (I still hear people talking about Apple’s 1984 commercial). I just recently posted about Radio Shack’s surprisingly excellent Super Bowl commercial. Those are overt because they ARE commercials.

But there’s also the slightly more subtle (and perhaps more powerful) videos that are true “television shows” in their own right, and yet are created for a commercial purpose. The best example I know of are the BMW commercials. (Search for them on YouTube if you’ve never seen them). The entire series is excellent.

And here are the other two models that were inevitable but are still in the early stages and offer a lot of promise to producers that can use them well.

3. Sell your videos

If you create video content, you can put it behind a paywall and sell access to it. Infomarketers do this already but now we’re seeing entertainment companies do this as well. The best example I’ve seen is Netflix, which has resurrected itself from the ashes to become more than just a paid aggregator of video… they are actually producing their own video entertainment now!

4. Get promotional support and include product placements

This one is the newest and most untried of the four models (at least in online video). I think this is partly because companies just don’t know what kind of ROI they can get from this.

But I recently saw one series (produced right here in Winnipeg — awesome!!!) that is very well done. The show is entertaining, there’s a decent storyline, and the brand placement is present but not silly or overwhelming. The series is called Wind City and it’s a 6-part series of videos that have a storyline but also integrate brand advertising into the show. I think it’s actually a pretty cutting-edge attempt at this business model. Even if you don’t love the show or Winnipeg, you should check out Wind City on YouTube for a bit of entertainment and to see their business model at work.

SOME FINAL THOUGHTS

Some of the monetization models above are being used well already for informational videos. But as entertainment videos increase in number and variety and quality, we’ll see more of those become monetized in these ways.

We’re missing a piece of the conversation when talking about the death of television

TV is dying a slow and painful death… not unlike a TV death! (haha)

I’m not saying that TV will disappear completely, nor will it vanish any time soon (a belief supported by an optimistic report from Forrester) but TV viewership is declining and will continue to decline because it is being replaced by other forms of video entertainment. Basically, you can watch a bunch of stuff online (free on YouTube, especially if you’re not too picky, or paid through a service like Netflix, or direct from networks who post full episodes on their sites).

Heck, the only reason I still watch TV and subscribe to cable is because some of the stuff I watch isn’t available on the web (specifically NASCAR — I love NASCAR) and I own a big TV. For all other entertainment, it can be watched on a laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

The conversation is usually centered around the following benefits:

  • The entertainment is on-demand instead of when it is broadcast
  • Viewers aren’t stuck to whatever channels their cable-provider gives them
  • You end up paying very little or nothing at all, compared to cable or satellite
  • Shows can be watched without commercials (or with commercials fast-forwarded) to reduce or eliminate sales pitches

But I think there’s something else missing from the conversation when we talk about how online video is replacing television as a medium of entertainment. I think there is an overlooked benefit that people love but maybe don’t realize they love.

It’s this…

Television shows are half an hour or an hour long. All of them. Even shows that are longer are chopped into two-parters.

But I don’t always have thirty or sixty minutes to watch a show. Even if I fast forward through the commercials in my PVR, I don’t always have 25 minutes or 50 minutes to watch a show. Sometimes, I have 5 or 10 minutes and I want to be entertained.

THAT is the overlooked value of online video content. It’s sometimes provided in smaller, digestible pieces, allowing you to watch what you want, when you want… for as long as you have.

I’m not just talking about chopping up an hour long show into 10-minute segments from one commercial break to another (which is how I watched the show The $treet on Youtube). I mean that video producers are starting to produce good content in shorter segments. They’re breaking away from the half-hour and hour-long formats of television and providing viewers with whatever length of show that fits their needs. 20 minutes? 15 minutes? 10 minutes? 5 minutes? 2 minutes? Whatever time you have, there’s something on YouTube to entertain you.

Here’s an example of a great video that is 4 minutes and 39 seconds long. Short, digestible, yet entertaining. (And very well produced, to boot).

There are tons of these kinds of things on YouTube — short videos of varying length for every taste and interest and genre preference. You can get whatever you want to fill the time you have.

I think this is the secret killer of television. Yes, there is the convenience factor of watching something any time on any device whenever you want. Those are relevant arguments. But the one we’re overlooking is length of content — we’ve broken away from the 12 and the 6 on the clockface.