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It’s a big question that comes up at least a few times during most video planning sessions, how long should my video be?

The answer might be influenced by various components of the video production process. And while there is no right or wrong video length, there are many important factors to consider in video length.

1. Consider the Content

If you're watching another cat video, a 6-second video on Instagram is perfectly fine. If you’re discussing a complicated issue – like whether schools are killing creativity – it should be MUCH longer. Which is why Ken Robinson’s 20-minute TEDTalk has been seen by millions of people. TEDTalks are so successful because they are interesting.

Yes, people are happy to watch good content, even though our attention spans are shorter than ever. Think about it, you'll happily sit down and watch a 2-hour movie or 8 episodes of your favorite TV show on Netflix. 

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But none of us can get to the "skip ad" button fast enough when we are trying to get to our favorite YouTube video. The point is, the length of your video should be a secondary consideration.

Ultimately, your video should be as long as your content will support – to tell your story and achieve your goals. Not a second longer, but not a second shorter, either. 

It Takes Time to Tell Great Stories

When I was at WCCO-TV, we worried about stories that went longer than a couple minutes – or even worse, five full minutes. Then we got access to minute-by-minute ratings and discovered that good stories – really good stories – hold their audience until the very end. If the story is worth it, and the storytelling is done right, the audience will keep watching.

Stories for the Soul_ James Chalmers, Marathon Man


This powerful video story is just about 6 minutes long, but it has a 75% play rate because the story is interesting, unique, inspiring and captivating. The video holds your attention for the majority of the 6-minute play time.

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2. Who is Your Audience and Where They Watching?

How your viewers are finding and watching your video is going to affect their attention span as well. If your users are scrolling through Facebook on their phone, you might only have a few short seconds to capture their attention. If, however, it’s meant to be an educational video for doctors, then you can absolutely go in depth and take your time.

If your audience is a busy mom, quick, high-level videos might perform the best. If you’re showcasing a story at a fundraising gala where you already have the audience’s full attention and open heart, you can dig in deeper.

Every audience is different, so what works for one organization might not work for another. Make sure to consider the viewing habits of your target audience and the context of where they might be watching your video when you to help you create something that will resonate.

3. What are Your Goals?

Every video you produce needs to have a goal and understanding the goal needs to be part of your pre-production meeting for your video. Without a clear goal, it's easy to get lost in the creative process and lose sight of what you are trying to accomplish.

Work together with your team to establish clear goals for your video. Get them down in writing and make sure that you communicate the goals with your video production team.

Here are some goals that will help you get started:

  • Bring awareness to your organization
  • Showcase your product
  • Entertain your audience
  • Drive donations
  • Educate your customers
  • Drive people to your website
  • Train your employees
  • Convert leads to customers
  • Drive webinar registrations
  • Keep your brand top of mind
  • Increase conversion on a landing page
  • Drive more visitors to a blog post

5. Engagement Rates

According to Wistia (a video hosting site), the average person watches 82% of videos that are between 0 and 30 seconds, but that number drops to just over 60% for 3-4 minute videos. 

So your video should be short, right? Not always.

It's important to consider your own data. Look at your engagement rates on Facebook, YouTube, Wistia, etc. Every industry and video will be different, but data can help you understand the trends for your own industry, audience, and context and help you narrow in a length that works the best.

6. Changes in Technology

Part of the reason why there is no easy answer to this question is that there are so many variables.  Ultimately, platforms like YouTube, Facebook and Instagram are working hard to try to get users to stay on their platform longer. They don't care if you are watching sixteen 6-second videos or three 4-minute videos as long as you are sucked in.

Every platform will have different results and those results might change in 3 months when there's a new algorithm update that favors different videos.

It's important for marketers to never assume that just because something worked, it will keep working forever. Data and analytics are your best friend, use them to make informed decisions about what to create next.

Conclusion

There isn't a standard video length that is right, but by better understanding your content, goals, audience, engagement rates, and platform, you can get a good sense of what will consistently perform well for your organization.

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Editors Note: This blog was originally published in March 2015 but was updated on December 19, 2017.