Yesterday two interesting articles came out regarding Maker Studios, the multichannel network recently purchased by Disney. Variety reports that Maker made a deal with another Disney-owned property, Fusion, to produce shows for Disney networks using stars from their YouTube partnership as well as having members show up on America’s Funniest Home Videos. However, I’m only considering that a companion piece to our discussion topic tonight.
Maker CEO Ynon Kreiz, according to report by The Hollywood Reporter, attempted to make the case that the longform TV show is dead or dying and the future belongs to shorter videos, like the content you might see on YouTube, or the really short programs you see from Japan that are about 15 minutes in length. (There are a few anime that aren’t a full-length TV episode as we know them. And he thinks those are too long, believing today’s viewer can’t last past four or five minutes.) While there is obviously a place for these, to say that the longform show is dead, is exaggerating. A lot. I don’t think Kreiz follows actual online discussion, just his participants’ analytics. He’s missing the whole picture here.
I will agree with one statement made in the article, though.
Kreiz argued that for the so-called millennial generation, the 12-to-24-year-olds so desired by the advertising industry, linear television is over. He quoted figures showing that the millennial demographic watched a third less linear television than 20-to-40-year-olds and less than half as much as 50-plus-year-old viewers.
“So it’s not that they watch more linear TV as they grow older but that they watch less as they grow younger,” Kreiz quipped. “This is a demographic that is really valuable and really hard to reach. They have a lot of spending power, but you can’t find them.”
I know people in my generation (I’m 41 if you haven’t been keeping up) who have dropped cable and satellite in favor of getting their entertainment from network’s own websites, Hulu, Netflix, or YouTube, or even Maker’s Blip service, which features original programming…at least when they aren’t purging channels without explanation. There are original shows that aren’t review programs, and that goes for YouTube, Vimeo, Dailymotion, and other sites. Then there are people who like having DVDs or Blu-Rays so they don’t have to be connected to the internet in order to watch something. These are good things, as they allow people to have the experience they think best. Even televisions now have the ability to connect to the internet and watch videos. My parents’ can do that; they just choose not to. Not even stuff I produce but that’s another story.
But to say that “linear television” is over with is to not pay attention to what they’re saying on the internet. Last night we discussed spoilers and whether or not they’re a good thing. In the parody video I posted a girl accidentally spoils a scene from the first season of Game Of Thrones and pays for it…a bit severely, but it’s comedy and fictional so it’s fine. It’s also way less bloody than the show they were discussing. One of the characters there, in the rest of the webseries, is a die-hard Doctor Who fan and dresses like Matt Smith’s Doctor, complete with bowtie and fez. (Whether or not the animator puts her into the current Peter Capaldi outfit remains to be seen.) Both of these shows are approximately an hour in length and there are fans who watch the new episode every week.
Yet online video won’t just be an extension of television by other means. According to Kreiz, short-form video is as different from long-form video “as movies are from TV.” Despite the boom in serialized drama on display at MIPCOM, he argued that young viewers want more short-form video, and they want it even shorter.
“Of the top 100 video properties in America, on all platforms, the average duration of the video is less than four minutes, and that’s down from five minutes a year ago,” Kreiz said. “If you’re including mobile use, that’s even more the case. On Netflix, almost 90 percent of Netflix content consumed on mobile is shorter than 10 minutes. We know there is demand. We know there is a need for this.”
I wouldn’t call it a need, exactly. Corridor Digital, one of the big stars in the visual effects genre (the internet’s answer to tokusatsu), have produced longer videos as well as short ones. Freddie Wong, who made a career out of short skits, also produces Video Game High School, which are longer form videos. Kreiz’s mistake is in believing these shorter videos, which offer a quick fix, are being looked at as superior to longer shows, which require more investment. I don’t think he gets what is really happening.
A shorter program, like ones that end up as Filler Videos here, are good for waiting in line, or at the doctor, or something else when you don’t have half an hour minimum to watch something. When you have more time (eating out alone, sitting at home, waiting at the DMV) for a longer TV episode, marathoning a bunch of them, or sitting in a movie theater or almost two hours (or four if it’s a Michael Bay or Peter Jackson movie), they do so. Short videos are just something to pass the time. Yet compare how many discussions there are for the latest Freddie W skit versus the latest episode of Gravity Falls or Scandal.
Shorter skits are a good thing if that’s all the time you need to tell your story or the limits of your budget. Longer TV shows and movies are not going away because sometimes you want to relax with something longer. Guardians Of The Galaxy lasting longer than anyone expected at the box office is proof of that. I grew up with things like Schoolhouse Rock, but just that all morning would haven’t held my attention. I would still crave Thundarr The Barbarian or Scooby-Doo and that hasn’t changed. (Right down to my still watching all three of those when I get a chance.) I think it’s more a case of Kreiz trying to make shorter internet videos look better not only as part of this project with Fusion but to investors both current and potential in Maker Studios. He didn’t have to. The internet allows for short skits to be their own video, rather than something like the old Carol Burnett show or the various Muppet creations who collected skits into a longer show. (Even the Muppets crew have used the internet to release skits featuring the characters and celebrities.)
Shorter videos work better on the internet now, but longer videos, whether they’re watching on HBO, DVD, or Hulu, aren’t going anywhere. It’s like saying printed comics will be replaced by digital ones. Both have a place in our reading experience. How you get your media isn’t important. We have our preferred experiences, and sometimes we watch or read something in whatever format we can best get it or enjoy them in the way we most desire to. There is a place for everything in media’s future. Even the longform television shows and movies.