YouTube Videos Don't Have to be THAT Short

A group of students at Columbia College in Chicago have taken a good, detailed look at the content of YouTube’s most popular channels and concluded—in the biggest headline to emerge—that contrary to the common view, successful videos don’t have to be really, really short.

And also, they've determined YouTube is not a place to mount a video with a continuing storyline. And that the most successful YouTube channels have one thing in common: They post fresh episodes on a regular basis, like weekly.

In some important ways, the evolving YouTube success formula isn’t too radically different from what works on TV.

Some commentary about the Columbia study suggests the most the most successful TV has a continuing story line. In fact, though, most TV series are self-contained little dramas or comedies. You can miss one, or several, and still know what’s going on. “Game of Thrones” and “Mad Men” (and many others that date back to daytime soap operas) are more the exception than the rule. You can pretty much watch “Burn Notice” whenever. That was also true back in the days of “The Honeymooners” and “Kojak.” The same is true with YouTube, creating that link you've been looking from between Lucille Ball and Jenna Marbles.

But as “Smosh” has proved on YouTube, Woody Allen was correct when he said “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” A regular schedule is imperative, on TV and on YouTube. And rolling redits, either at the beginning or end, is not a very hot idea. has a nice cheat sheet of the Columbia study’s results.

Back to length though, for a (quick) moment. The Columbia study shows that videos can have a little time to breathe.  The story, commenting on the study, says:

“YouTube is often thought of as a place where short videos thrive, but the site’s top contributors don’t tend to keep things so brief. The average video length among the top channels is 4:19, well above the snappy runtime we associate with YouTube. At first, this number seems skewed by gaming Let’s Play videos and makeup tutorials, both of which are common in the top channels and often run for more than ten minutes. However, even videos from poplar comedy channels have an average length of 3:25.  In terms of accruing subscribers, this data suggests that producing regular episodic content is more important that keeping it brief.”

I have a soft spot for Columbia College, where I taught some courses a while ago and where the students are, in a word, non-traditional. It’s just the kind of place that you would expect to take a hard look at something like YouTube and videos and general, to determine what myths are growing up around it. Both of the links provided in this blog will take you to the study itself, which has a kind of straight no B.S. approach that you’ll enjoy reading, and since it comes from people around the prime age for creating/consuming YouTube videos, it just sounds right. It’s not too long. But it’s also not too short.

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