Thinking About Online Video (Part II): How Long Will it Go?

The explosion of online video content this year has primarily consisted of user-generated video shorts, led by the phenomenon of YouTube and other social video sharing sites. In a post two weeks ago, I explored the question of how far online video content will be syndicated.

Another question on my mind, however, is as this medium progresses, how long the will the videos we consume online be? Surfing around YouTube reminds me of watching America’s Funniest Home Videos fifteen years ago. Both venues largely consist(ed) of very short clips shot on a home camera which provoke amusement and/or laughter. And like YouTube, AFHV was also a sensation in its own time – remember, in March of 1990 it had become the number one ranked television series, temporarily unseating CBS’s 60 Minutes. But all television content did not transform into an AFHV clone.

Likewise, YouTube is a successful pioneer, but perhaps not the perfect model for what is to come. I think that the content on that site is appropriate for what the subject matter is – funny shorts are funny shorts. However, I wonder – what about meaningful video content? Aren’t 30 second clips going to lost their novelty? Less than two years after the height of America’s Funniest Home Videos, in 1992 MTV aired its first season of the Real World, which provided viewers a storyline around these “real” people interacting with the world. We then saw much of the next decade of primetime slowly become engulfed with reality television with varying degrees of length to the “episodes.”

With perhaps a bit less fanfare over the past year, large media companies have (reluctantly) released some of their longer-form content online. As just an example, the relaunch of AOL Video last week includes access to many forms of produced longer-form pieces. Additionally, MSN has suggested that it will partially differentiate its upcoming video offering with longer-format content.

Yet producing longer-form content isn’t just available to media conglomerates. There are an increasing number of simple online tools available (like Jumpcut and Eyespot) for even non-tech savvy consumers to reach beyond simple clips themselves and produce meaningful videos complete with storylines.

Because of the datapoints above, I don’t doubt that video will be available online in longer formats. However, people will have an increasing option to consume content in a length that pleases them. The real question is whether people will want to watch longer segments online. I’ve heard anecdotally that people just aren’t fully watching all the way through long-form content pieces which are available now (even when controlling for those who drop off in the first minute who were really just “previewing” the content). Will that change over time as people become more comfortable with passively viewing a longer piece? Or perhaps there is something inherent about the laptop screen vs. a television that makes it less appropriate for long-form content (the lean-in vs. lean-back discussion).

How long will online video go? Ultimately, it all depends on what consumers want.

David Beisel

David Beisel is a co-founder and Partner at NextView Ventures. He has been focused on early stage Internet startups his entire career, both as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist. As an investor in the digital media space, David was most recently a Vice President at Venrock and previously a Principal at Masthead Venture Partners. Prior to becoming a venture capitalist, David co-founded Sombasa Media, an e-mail marketing company best known for its flagship product BargainDog. Sombasa was successfully acquired by where David served as Vice President of Marketing. David holds an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and an AB in Economics, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, from Duke University. He also founded and leads the Boston Innovators Group, an organization which holds quarterly entrepreneur events drawing a thousand attendees.