If you’ve ever studied Hollywood style screenwriting you’ll know that the recommendation is that most screenplays weigh in at 90 to 105 pages long. And if you’ve studied screenwriting you’ll know what this recommendation is about.
If you haven’t studied screenwriting you probably won’t understand why the 90 to 105-page length recommendation is about. As a rule of thumb, Hollywood’s movers and shakers measure a screenplay like this: one page equals approximately one minute of screen time.
So a 90-page screenplay translates to a 90-minute movie. And the guys with the power to greenlight a Hollywood movie look favourably on 90-minute movies.
Why Is 90 Minutes A Good Length For A Movie?
The reason 90 minutes is perceived through the film industry as a good length for a commercial film – note the deliberate use of the word ‘commercial’ – is that compared to say a film that’s two hours long (only thirty minutes longer), you can get one extra screening per day of a 90 minute movie.
And the sad reality is that Hollywood is controlled by bean counters who could care less for the quality of a film; and care considerably more for the bottom line. The bottom line is ‘bums on seats’ – to borrow a phrase from the theatre – and an extra showing per day across thousands of movie theatres equates to potentially more bums on seats per week.
But in the last 10 years there’s been a trend away from this, a few highly successful films that have been given their own category:
The Butt Numbing Blockbuster
These are films like Avatar (162 minutes), Titanic (194 Minutes), Lord Of the Rings Fellowship Of the Ring (178 Minutes), King Kong (200 Minutes) and Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone (152 Minutes)
Bear in mind too that the original cuts of these films were often as much as 60 minutes longer. So the screenplays were wayyyyyyy longer than the 90 to 105-page norm preferred by the Hollywood bean counters.
But What’s Professional Hollywood Movies Got To Do with YouTube Videos?
Here’s a statistic that I see bandied glibly around on marketing forums whenever the question of length of video comes up. Apparently, so the statistic tells us, the average length of time a YouTube video is watched is 2.7 minutes (my italics).
The advice that often follows the quoting of this statistic is this: make your videos short, no more than 90 seconds if you can.
Here’s the advice I think you should follow when you are making an online video to perform a specific task for your business: start at the beginning and finish at the end.
If you can do that in 90 seconds that’s great. If it takes longer, it takes longer. There’s another crucial factor to take account of too that will affect the length of your online video:
What Is The Purpose Of Your Online Video?
If you are creating a video as a business and marketing tool then it should do one of three things:
- It should attract leads and potential customers to your website (the attraction phase).
- It should convert potential customers into clients (the conversion phase).
- It should help clients consume the product/service they have brought from you (the consumption phase).
Every video you make for your business should be focused on achieving one – and only one – of those goals. And which of those goals you are trying to achieve will have a bigger say in determining the final length of your video than advice handed out by random posters on marketing forums who seem ignorant of the three stages of The Sales Cycle.
And it’s vital that you understand what you are trying to achieve before you start creating a video – and script out exactly how you are going to try to achieve that goal before you press the Record button on your camera.
As a rule of thumb attraction videos tend to be the shortest – anything from 4 or 5 minutes to 15 minutes.
Conversion videos – or sales videos – are often considerably longer. And with the ‘guru launch method’ that lots of people use these days those sales videos are often spread over 3 or 4 videos – often each video is 15 to 20 minutes long. Or longer.
And consumption videos can last longer still.
The important point is that YOUR video should be as long as you need it to be.
But People Won’t Watch Online Videos Longer Than 3 Minutes
They said this in the Movie Industry too – do yourself a favour, Google ‘bestselling movies’ or a similar phrase, and find Titanic on the listings that come up. That film was DOUBLE the length and more of the recommended 90 minutes – so not only could the bean counters NOT squeeze in extra showings, they actually had to reduce the number of showings per day.
And it’s 2nd on the all time grossing movies. It’s grossed worldwide close to 2 billion dollars.
But that’s just movies, you say. Well, think again. If you’ve never heard of Gary Vaynerchuk then Google his name and go read his story. This is a guy who managed his parents wine store and started posting daily wine tasting videos to a video blog. Those videos frequently ran to 15 or 20 minutes in length.
And you know what? His audience grew – as did the turnover for his parent’s Liquor Store (from memory I think he increased the turnover from 4 Million to 80 million – but I’d have to double check that to be reliably sure). And those videos on his Wine Library TV video blog turned him into a mini celebrity.
But the point isn’t that Titanic grossed billions, or that Gary Vaynerchuk leveraged his wine videos and made himself a celebrity. The question you need to ask is this:
How Can You Get People To Watch Videos That Are Longer Than 3 Minutes?
The answer is simple: it’s what goes into your videos that will determine whether people will watch.
If you know what your video is trying to achieve, and combine that with a good understanding of your target audience and content that will engage that target audience, then the length of the video won’t matter.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t edit your videos as ruthlessly as possible – the leaner your videos are, the more engaging they will become. Save the ‘Director’s Cut’ versions for your friends and families, or to give away as bonuses with some of the products and services that you sell.
An often-repeated statistic is that the average length of online video watched on YouTube is around 2.7 minutes.
What’s important is that when you are making online videos you understand exactly what you are trying to achieve with that video.
Combine that goal with a good understanding of your target audience to create a compelling video that will entertain, educate, inform or enrich your audience.
Good movies are often made great in the editing suite. Your movies should be no different – edit them ruthlessly and make them as lean as possible.
Online video is the new black. I’m currently in the process of writing an eBook called Build Your Audience, Build Your Tribe – One YouTube Video at A Time. The best way to keep up to date with the news on this is to subscribe to the One Spoon newsletter.