I’m sure you’ve experienced one of those presentations where it’s boring you to tears, but you know that if you get up and leave, someone who matters is going to notice. Perhaps you’ve considered faking an important phone call? Or when really desperate – an elaborate plan to come down with an unexpected illness??   (anyone? anyone?)

So, why bring up being stuck in a boring presentation when I’m meant to be talking about the length of online videos? Because it’s essentially the same rule for online video as for live presentations when it comes to how long they should be. The key difference is, no one’s stopping a viewer from walking out on your online video.

It’s all relative, baby…

You see I reckon it all has to do with the relativity of time. Think back to that boring presentation. At the point of desperately wanting a presentation to be over, Einstein’s theory of relativity really starts to make a whole lot more sense. Well maybe not in all it’s intricate detail of the space time continuum, but in your everyday “now I get it” kind of way. You know there’s only 15 minutes until the next coffee break, but each time you glance at your watch somehow only 15 seconds have ticked past, even though you could swear it felt like way over a minute. This is because you’re disengaged, disinterested and just want to be somewhere else. Every minute feels like two. And the longer things go on, the worse it gets. Thus the age old rule for live presentations is that they are measured in something that could be called ‘minutes beyond interest’. Every minute that a presentation goes on without keeping the interest of the audience, is a minute too long.

The ‘Seconds Beyond Interest’ Rule

Essentially it is the same rule for online videos, except time is much more compressed here. Every online video that gets created is measured in ‘seconds beyond interest’ (perhaps even milliseconds!) For every second your video has your audience engaged it is the right length. From the second your audience becomes disengaged, it’s too long. Just like presentations, your videos will be measured in seconds beyond interest, where every second beyond someone’s interest is a second too long and gives them a great reason to click something else.

You may think this sounds a little harsh. Or perhaps a sort of ethereal concept as each audience member has a different “disengagement tolerance”. The latter of which of course is true. But you’re goal as a content creator should always be to understand what you’re core audience wants from you, what interests them and then to deliver on that in an interesting way. You can’t ignore that there’s a plethora of options when it comes to content for them to consume, and they’ve no time to waste on content that seems unimportant, uninspiring, irrelevant and unengaging.

Now I could go on here to cite examples of stats and research that will tell you the optimum length of online videos to be anywhere between 30 and 180 seconds, or other stats that will tell you that only the first 10 seconds matter anyway. The thing is that despite all of these reports you’ll know from experience that you’ve been bored by a video within 5 seconds and you’ll also have happily watched a video online that has kept your engaged for over 15 minutes.

So in a strange way, the answer to “How long should my online video be?” is to make relevant, inspiring, important and engaging content. That way, the length will take care of itself. So stop trying to find the magical perfect online video length – that doesn’t exist, and instead work to improve how you engage your audience with great content.