Opinions expressed in this piece belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of AMEinfo.
I want to kick off this article by stating that I am a major consumer of YouTube content. If I had to roughly sum it up, I’d say I consume 80% of my weekly audiovisual content on the platform, whereas I spend less than 5% of my total view time watching television. The remaining 15% or so is divided up across Facebook Watch, Twitter and other miscellaneous online platforms.
If I had to guess, I’d say I’ve been consuming audiovisual content in this ratio for the past 5 years or so, if not more. As many millennials like myself will tell you, we like to be in charge of our media. We are increasingly interested in more niche topics, topics not often addressed on television. Additionally, we like to be in control of when we consume content. Don’t take my word it: just ask DVD rental firm turned multi-billion dollar video streaming platform Netflix.
It’s 10 minutes too long
So, how does this tie in to the title of this article, you may ask. You see, a few years back, YouTube’s ever-changing beast of an algorithm was changed so that it encouraged content creators to produce videos 10 minutes or longer. That’s because a video above this duration would be permitted to include mid rolls ads, whereas videos less than 10 minutes long would often only be allowed to put a single ad at the start.
Economically-speaking, the math is simple. A longer video equals more ads and higher watch time and engagement. More ads mean the content creators gets to make more money. After all, a YouTube content creator is an entrepreneur, so to speak, and their channel is their businesses. So, it’s only natural they’ll want to maximize their earnings.
As for YouTube, there are a few reasons they tweaked their ad placement rules this way. Like all social media and content platforms, YouTube wants to keep its users on its site for longer. More hours consumed and higher engagement rates mean advertisers will be more likely to spend money on the platform as that’s where consumers are mostly hanging out, which benefits YouTube as much as it would the content creator. Monetizing any content on the platform entails a 45/55 split in ad revenue between YouTube and the content creator respectively.
Time wasting and runtime inflation
Which brings me to my point. As a loyal user of the platform, it can be exhausting seeing your favorite YouTubers having to stretch out their content to hit the 10 minute mark when you can often tell the material in the video could have easily been conveyed in 5 minutes (or less sometimes). With my favorite content creators, I can be forgiving, sure.
When it comes to videos I simply stumble upon looking for a quick dinner recipe or computer fix, for example, it can frustrating having to comb through 2-3 minutes of introductory plug-ins inserted just to self-promote and, more importantly, to extend runtime. It’s not too difficult to understand why a video platform with bite-sized content like TikTok has become so popular. People are just tired of long videos.
Look, I understand the YouTube grind. I’ll never grow fond of misleading clickbait, but I understand the ‘hustle,’ if we are going to call it that. While many might dismiss YouTubing as not being a real job, I have great respect for those that put out regular quality content that is informative, entertaining or plain enjoyable to watch. As a journalist (i.e. a content creator myself), I can fully relate with the challenge of always pursuing the next big story and keeping users constantly informed with quality content.
However, strong-arming content creators to inflate runtime just so that viewers stay longer on the platform is unfair to both the YouTubers and their viewers. YouTubers feel pressured to hit that 10 minute mark no matter the type of video, lest they get a fraction of the revenue they’re owed for the hard work they’ve put into making the content.
Users like myself, on the other hand, are already suffering from ADHD-like symptoms linked to internet usage, where every hyperlink, video thumbnail, funny clip and clickbait title wants our attention, constantly diverting our webpage to the next catchy thing. Forcing us to stick around for 10 minutes just to find out what we could have learned in four is just ridiculous.
I’ve often seen users calling out content creators that engage in this behavior – simply inflating runtime as opposed to actually providing longer, more engaging material. On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve also seen grateful comments thanking YouTubers for sticking to the point by keeping their content short, often rewarding them with engagement in the form of likes, comments and shares.
A daring alternative
The simple video below on the difference between homemade and restaurant-prepared burritos is 3 minutes long with over 2.5 million views. It’s short, helpful, and surprisingly quite informative.
This content creator, who goes by the name Internet Shaquille, makes it a point to keep his content short and snappy, and users couldn’t be any happier. Just look at the top rated comments on his video:
Internet Shaquille, to counterbalance the loss in revenue he’ll likely incur due to his short-form content, has put a call to action in the comment section instead, circumventing the entire YouTube monetization program in favor of that of Patreon, which is a membership platform that allows users to financially support their favorite content creators in a monthly, subscription-based form, often for additional perks and benefits.
YouTubers like Internet Shaquille are few and far between, and again, I can’t simply blame lazy content creators for inflating their content, as a large part of the blame falls on YouTube’s business strategy, and content creators are trying to survive an ever more competitive online environment.
There has been some positive change this year, however. This past July, YouTube told creators that they had dropped the threshold requirement for mid roll ads to 8 minutes, Still, most of the videos uploaded in recent weeks continue to adhere to the 10-minute practice. Perhaps this is out of habit, or perhaps 8 minute videos aren’t producing as much revenue as they should be. Even a 2 minute difference can make a difference to the YouTube algorithm in terms of watch time and engagement, so maybe YouTubers can’t be bothered to shave off 2 minutes.
Another reason why 10 minute+ videos are still the norm, aside from the increase ad placement/revenue, is because the pandemic had a detrimental effect on YouTubers. Contrary to popular belief, COVID-19 actually caused ad revenue rates for content creators to drop, despite more people being stuck at home. That’s because the global economy has been shrinking and advertisers have been more frugal with their spending, which has led YouTubers to becoming more desperate as earnings were shrinking.
It’s quite the complex situation, to be honest, and it is not too difficult to understand the perspectives of content creators, YouTube itself, and advertisers. It’s just that as consumers, we appreciate not being strung along and having our time wasted. For now, our best friend is the YouTube progress bar.