A simple truth – I really don’t like long YouTube videos. Unless, in a few very rare cases when a YouTuber absolutely nails the art of crafting a longer narrative piece and turns it into a more full-on sit-down documentary piece, for the most part, anything longer than 15 minutes or so is an instant turn off – and even that’s pushing it.
Recently, I’ve noticed a trend amongst almost all of the biggest anime YouTubers toward longer videos. Apparently this is because viewing habits are shifting in this direction, while it simultaneously allows for the video to be surfaced more reliably by YouTube’s recommendation systems, as well as better ad return. I’m not a YouTuber myself, so I don’t profess to know the ins and outs of the systems, but as a lay viewer, it’s evident that many are now seeking to ‘game’ this system, or at the very least shift more in line with working to optimise it.
The downside is that many channels no longer output their videos in the way they did when – in my opinion – they did when they were operating at their best. Many now release overly long videos, stretched out by ad opportunities, pre-amble, post-amble or just general ‘filler’ that pads the video toward a longer run-time. Sometimes, when well-written and scripted, this works – but invariably, it forms part of the larger trend of freeform discourse that many lifestyle YouTubers are also tending toward – all in service of keeping eyeballs on the video for longer.
Alongside this, there is also a trend toward more channels mixing in ‘straight up’ videos with podcasts and webcasts – essentially, un-edited vocal only video, or just straight up vocal over still image. Stuff that runs for 30 mins to an hour-plus. Some YouTubers relegate this content to sub channels, while others release it as part of their main content stream.
The simple truth is that good video content takes a long time, and a lot of expertise (either the invidual’s own, or a paid-for third party) to produce. So in this instance, as the written online content industry found out many years ago, it becomes all about the content churn – minimising time input and maximising hits and sheer output. Why waste two days on a great video when you can bang something out in a couple of hours and potentially get just as many hits via a catchy video title or thumbnail? I’ve seen many YouTubers flat out ‘give up’ or reduce their uploads to once every month or two because they are unwilling to ‘play the game’. What was once a passion is now conflated into the tricky minefield of ‘To what degree am I going to ‘step up’ to play this as a business/full degree paid lifestyle’.
This is important, because as I discussed in a previous post, I believe, as with many other online media industries, video is more important than ever right now – moving to become the primary discourse field for media analysis. Companies that post-poned getting ‘in’ on YouTube for years are now finally realising all the eyeballs are there now, and that no matter what the skill or financial outlay is, they need to get on YouTube and start pushing high quality video content to keep those same eyeballs interested.
What it all comes back to is what function YouTube serves, and attention spans. As we are bombarded by more and more distractions and media outputs, we have to make more and more choices of how we compartmentalise our viewing time. A short, snackable five or ten minute video of dynamic, well edited, well soundtracked ‘impact video’ is perfect to fit into a short break. But a thirty minute diatribe or deep-level analysis of a show’s themes is something very different – more like an audiobook or radio programme.
The YouTube anime community continues to put out some remarkably high quality content – the likes of Super Eyepatch Wolf one of my continuing current favourites – but it also owes it to itself to keep itself in ‘good nick’ and not fall overtly prey to ‘the numbers game’. While the ‘vlogging’ model works for some YouTubers, and can certainly still be enjoyable in the right context (when you have unlimited time on your hands and can sit back an enjoy in comfort) – I personally believe that a continual strive toward short dynamic ‘impact’ videos remains one of the medium’s most powerful forms; the videos I, at any rate, still remember – that linger in my mind long after watching.