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What Batman vs. Superman can show you about the “right” video length

What Batman vs. Superman can show you about the -right- video lengthIt was supposed to be a huge superhero blockbuster. But Batman vs. Superman turned out to be anything but a hit. After an amazing opening week, the movie went into free-fall in its second week, taking in 68% less revenue.

Second weeks are always less than the first you’re thinking. And you’re right, but few fall so dramatically in one week as did the eagerly anticipated entry into the DC film universe.

Critics and fans alike though, left the movie wondering what they just saw. Many left confused, not understanding the storyline, the characters, or what DC was thinking in making something with great effects without any substance.

So what happened?

Well, the truth of the situation came out not long after the debut (maybe a bit before actually). They struggled with an issue everyone who makes videos – full-length movies or 30-second how-tos – has to face: how long should a video (or movie) be?

It turns out that about two and a half hours is the sweet spot for feature films. Well, “sweet” here is used in the sense of what is expected by movie goers. But that length doesn’t guarantee a good movie as the subject film here indicates. Before we get into what went wrong with the un-blockbuster of a movie, let’s take a look at what you should know about length for your own video content.

What’s the answer?

Around the web there are many experts to tell you how long to make your video. Much of it is backed by analysis of trends, video types, providers, device types, and any number of other variables. Having an analytical background, I’d say most of them aren’t wrong. They’ve come up with an answer that works for whatever video type they were analysing.

But that doesn’t necessarily make them right about your videos.

As an example of a self-aware expert, take a look at Paul Riismandel. He writes for StreamingMedia.com. He wrote an article saying that six minutes was the perfect length for a video intended for student education.

A few months later he had to write another article explaining to everyone that he intended the six minutes to be a guideline, not an absolute. He stresses in the second article that everyone, every video, and every purpose is different. You need to figure out what the right length is for your videos, and use his analysis as a guide if you need one.

So there you have it. There is no one right answer for all video, or even for specific types of video. There are guidelines though, and those can be a helpful place to start.

But don’t stop there.

What’s your answer?

To take a note from Riismandel, every video, topic and audience is unique. There is no perfect number you need to achieve in video length. But there are two main considerations I think need to be made:

  1. It needs to be long enough to tell your story well (whatever it is)
  2. AND it needs to be short enough that your audience will watch it.

Number one could be your biggest problem. It all depends who is writing your video scripts or storyboards.

We all know people that can make a recap of the last Game of Thrones episode take three hours instead of the 69 minutes it took to watch it. But there are also those people who summarise to the point you miss key elements (like the look Arya has on her face while taking Walder Frey off her list).

So the emphasis for number one is on the word “well”.

Number two may start out as an unknown for you. That’s where the guidelines help you get started. How-to videos are usually 30 seconds to two minutes long. Apparently student videos are best kept to about six minutes in length. Look around and you’ll find your starting guideline.

But after that, you’ll need to keep an eye on your analytics. Are your videos getting played all the way through? When do most people drop out? Or are you getting any views at all?

Look at what you’ve done and see what’s working. If you’re getting great results – well done! If not, go back to number one. Can you make the video shorter with some editing or rewriting? Or is the story missing some key parts so you need to add 30 seconds?

Which brings me back around to Batman vs. Superman.

Telling the story well

While there is much disagreement about the tone and directorial choices for how the movie was filmed, there is resounding agreement that the story was not told well.

When I found out the original cut was four hours long, it all made sense – well the movie didn’t make sense, but the reason I felt so confused while watching it did.

In the editing, the story not only lost some key elements, it lost entire characters and plot lines. Granted some were secondary and we probably would never miss them. But they cut big enough chunks out to make the movie the “appropriate” length that the story suffered.

The film will never get a second chance at the box office (until the reboot years down the road!), it will get a second chance with fans during the DVD and streaming release.

A new, longer version is being offered called the Ultimate Batman vs. Superman. It comes in at 3 hours and 3 minutes. We haven’t seen the release of the Ultimate edition in the UK yet, but according to some American reviews (the release date was June 28th across the pond), the added time is an improvement. How much of an improvement is still a controversy.

The moral? Tell your story well in the time your audience’s attention span will allow. And if you can’t tell the story well in that time, then tell a different story.

Oliver Burt

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