Best Duration Time for Short Videos?

One of the questions I often get asked by clients is - "What's the best time for the video?", "How long should it be?" And so on. Like a lot of questions the answer is - "It depends!"

Below I've outlined 3 general groupings as it depends on the specific target audience and the film's primary distribution channel (website, social media or "closed, close viewing"). These 3 groups generally require different treatment regarding optimum video length. However, I always tell clients that, as a rule, the shorter the better - whilst their film should be (just) long enough to get a key point(s) or their differentiator across.

Website - e.g. a business promotional film, often via a YouTube or Vimeo embedded player. For these, 60-90 seconds is often the sweet spot for length, with my preference being nearer 60 seconds - but I do produce a lot of films around the 2-minute mark too - or even longer - as often clients want to "get a lot in"!  It's important to remember that people typically talk at around 100-120 words per minute so it depends on what exactly the narrative requires.  You'll be amazed how many clients appear with a "rough" script of say 300-400 words and think we're going to produce a short 60-second film together!  Sure, I always work patiently with clients to try and get their key messages over as succinctly, yet interestingly and imaginatively as possible but there are limitations. If they really need that amount of narrative content/points making then I'm going to be suggesting we split the subject matter into 2 or more shorter films.

Whatever happens, after I've got the best sound bites from filming, wherever possible, I will then take out the "ummns and arrhs", sniffs, sharp inhaling of breath noises etc. during editing. These make it sound better and shave a few seconds off here and there. Typically, I am showing cut aways of them at work, their business in action, product or services whilst they are talking so these hide all those cuts nicely too.  It's also MUCH more interesting for the viewer to see these things rather than (just) a "talking head". Remember, a website visitor is always on the verge of clicking or tapping away to look at something else!  Obviously, it's especially imperative that the start of the film is as engaging as possible and that it continues to generate interest visually and aurally to retain them (more on that later).


Social media - If the film is for e.g. Facebook and/or Twitter then I generally advise that 30-45 seconds is optimal, again nearer 20-30 if possible.  It's remarkably difficult to get a meaningful message across in less than 30 seconds and this is the exact reason most TV adverts tend to be of this length. Remember, the talking rate/word count I mentioned earlier? A film of this length is just 2-3, maybe 4 short sentences and every single word and image counts - editing and delivery needs to be very slick/polished.

Also, bear in mind a lot of films (some statistics suggest >75%) are viewed on social media with the sound OFF. So if the film is
primarily for social media use it makes sense to use very short, clear/large on-screen captions too, especially as viewing is mostly on mobile phones and tablets.  And don't get me going on "buy my stuff, shaky selfie videos" shot on phones for Facebook! Do you really think people watch more than a few seconds of those before clicking/scrolling away? And once you've lost them, don't expect them to come back! By the way, be very wary of Facebook's viewer count statistics - those annoying autoplayed but never really watched videos get counts too! Note that if you use YouTube to host the film then much more sophisticated analytical tools are available as I'll touch on shortly. Likewise Vimeo has their own analytical offerings.

Closed, close viewing - A lot of my corporate video work is definitely not for public viewing/under NDAs. These films are used in executive meetings to discuss joint ventures, supply agreements and/or large contracts. I do a heck of a lot of this type of work for various multi-nationals. Without disclosing clients, I have been told that numerous films I've produced have helped seal many multi-million pound deals over the last 9 years. Of course it wasn't just my superb films that made this happen - but they must have helped! These films will often be 3 to 5 minutes in length (sometimes as long as 6 to 8 minutes even). They are slickly produced and totally bespoke, i.e. specifically targeted at the recipient(s) sitting in the room for a particular, well planned meeting.  A film of this length is often needed as it may, for example, cover the key technical and/or commercial capabilities of the company pitching for a valuable business agreement or perhaps show a case study they are very proud of.  As an aside, I get to film some amazing technology, architecture etc. all over the UK (not just in and around Cambridge) when making these types of films for some very high profile clients and it's one of the reasons I love what I do!

Why are these films typically much longer? Well, they need time to "show and tell" in a powerful, imaginative, developing and persuasive way. The film is often part of a much bigger presentation (including the dreaded Powerpoint) in a board room. The viewing audience is of course both captive and keen to devote the time to watching a film of this duration intently as they are about to make important/expensive decisions. Hence my description of closed, close viewing. A superficial 60-second film is just not going to cut it in this environment.

Other factors - A skilfully produced film with lots of appealing cut aways will always get better viewer engagement than a static "talking head" video - or those poorly made selfie videos where you can't hear what's being said. Also, don't forget that one of the key skills of a professional Videographer is to find what's interesting about you and your business and then make sure that it all comes across really well. Image and initial impressions are everything - carefully shot and chosen images and sound bites can have a huge positive impact on your viewers. Conversely, a poorly produced video will do your business more damage than good. If you don't care about the quality of your image why would a customer think you care about the quality of the goods or services you might provide either!

Want to know more? Don't forget there are superb analytical tools to learn from. I often study the detailed viewing stats like duration of views on my YouTube (and Vimeo) channels/ones I've managed for numerous clients.  The graph below is an example snapshot of the last 30 days of a film on a client's YouTube channel. Using various tabs you can easily study detailed stats on audience retention in relation to video play head position/what's on screen (not shown)… should the viewing numbers fall off a cliff and you want to understand why!

YouTube Last 28 Days Example Stats 850p (for website) copy


This example (actually, I think a very engaging film) is 2-minutes long - but you'll notice that average viewing time is 1 minute 22 seconds. I've kept the film and client anonymous and had originally suggested we went with a 75 second film - but they wanted something else included at the end which stretched the length! Remember, "less is often more" when it comes to video - people seem to have short attention spans these days.

So if you want people to get the whole message, keep it short and make sure it's well produced by a Videographer that knows what they are doing so that it's worth watching/gets the message you want across!