stories largely missing in online video

While stories are staples of television programming, the most popular YouTube videos are predominately music videos from major record labels. Among the all-time most viewed YouTube channels, the leader is the Universal Music Group channel. That channel has about as many views as the total of the nine next highest viewed channels, all but one of which are also mainstream commercial music video channels. Among all-time most viewed YouTube single videos, there’s slightly more diversity in form and producers. The all-time most viewed YouTube video is the mockumentary Evolution of Dance. However, it has only about 1% more views than the next leading video, which is an RCA Records music video. Major record company music videos account for six of the top ten most viewed Youtube videos.

Online video isn’t succeeding in telling stories. The popular YouTube music videos typically communicate an emotion or feeling, not a story. Video appears on many sites besides Youtube; about 49% of videos viewed are on sites with less than 1% of total video views. However, the average duration of online video viewing across all sites is only 2.8 minutes per video.[1] That’s not long enough to develop much of a story.

Flickr has embraced video in a way that gives little room for video story-telling. Video on Flickr is limited to a maximum of 90 seconds. The idea of Flickr video is a “long photo”; video that’s “personal” and “simple — not overproduced or slick.” Telling a story with video is much more difficult than taking a photograph. Video story-telling typically requires multiple scenes, often multiple takes and multiple actors, and usually considerable editing. Flickr video clearly is not meant for video story-telling.

Across the U.S. population, online video viewing time currently amounts to only about 3% of television viewing time.[2] Online video viewing time is unlikely to come close to television viewing time unless online viewers start to watch many more story-oriented videos.


[1] Online videos viewed in the U.S. in March, 2008, based on comScore data. The average duration of the 20 all-time most popular YouTube videos, weighted by popularity, is 4.7 minutes. So YouTube videos don’t appear to be driving down the average duration of all online video viewing.

[2] The American Time Use Survey, which covers persons in the U.S. ages 15 and older, shows about 4600 minutes of television watched per person per month in 2006. comScore states that, in the U.S. in March, 2008, “average online video viewer watched 235 minutes of video.” The source gives 139 million online video viewers, who are 73.7% of the “total U.S. Internet audience”. Those figures imply a total U.S. Internet audience of 190 million. There are about 240 million persons in the U.S. ages 15 and older. Using this latter figure as the base implies 136 minutes of online video watched per person per month.

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