Video for Short Attention Spans

on October 15, 2018
Reading Time: 4 minutes

About 18 months ago, I was talking to my contacts in Hollywood, and they told me that Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg had become interested in short form videos. The word they used to describe his thinking was “short telenovela’s” that could tell an entire story in about 10-15 minutes. At the time I heard this news from these friends, the smartphone had been on the market for close to 8 years. Moreover, during that time, many had observed how people in Asia were using smartphones to watch locally created soaps on their way to work.

I have been on these commuter trains in Japan and Hong Kong and have observed this type of behavior, especially by Asian youth, as they rode the train to work each morning. Most have commutes of over an hour and before smartphones, they would either read or play handheld games on their way to work. However, once smartphones were able to deliver video, local short form video content became widely available, and most watch their soaps or segments of a movie or TV show on the train to their jobs.

Katzenberg is not the only one in Hollywood who was thinking about this idea of creating short-form videos. There are projects inside all of the major movie and TV studios who have been exploring this idea for a couple of years.

This week, Katzenberg and his partner, Meg Whitman, officially announced their new movie studio called “ Quibi” which is short for quick bites of content. Its primary goal is to create a short-form video for quick consumption when riding to work on public transport or standing in line at the DMV, or anytime or place what you can spare 10-15 minutes to watch one of these videos.

At Vanity Fair’s Establishment Summit last week, Katzenberg and Whitman announced their new venture.

According to Deadline Hollywood, “Katzenberg talked about his rationale for the startup, which has secured an initial round of $1 billion. He said people leave the house each day with a television in their pockets — their smartphones; and they are devoting 70 minutes a day watching videos from these ubiquitous portable screens.

YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Snap all have created an appetite for mobile video and helped to establish a powerful daily habit. Now, mobile video is ready for its HBO moment — a time for a new player to step in and reinvent mobile video with high-quality content from Hollywood’s top talent.” For top talent, Quibi has tapped big-name filmmakers like Sam Raimi, Guillermo Del Toro, and Antoine Fuqua.

Deadline points out that Quibi has big-name backers as well. This includes Disney, eOne, Fox, Lionsgate, MGM, NBC Universal, Sony Pictures, Viacom and Warner Media. Tech investors include Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Liberty Global and Madrone Capital.

When I initially heard about Katzenberg’s interest in short form videos, the snarky side of me called it “short attention span” theatre. However, over the last two years, I have found myself watching short video clips from Facebook videos and even short videos I found on Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube when waiting in long lines and when I ride the train to meetings in San Francisco once in a while. However, most of the videos I watch are tied to things like music videos, America’s Best Talent or American Idol or things that are funny or amusing.

What Katzenberg and Whitman are doing is launching high-quality mobile storytelling in which an entire story is told in a relatively short time span. I see this as a significant inflection point in mobile computing history. We already know that 70% of video is already being consumed on mobile devices. Also, most of these videos in the west are like the examples I gave above. However, in Asia, this type of short form mobile storytelling has been going on for years.

Now Quibi is set to deliver high-quality video that will tell a story in a short “bits” or create short stories in the form of weekly episodes like what we already have on TV or as stories that can be linked together perhaps by chapters. More importantly, the shows from Quibi will be movie theater quality given the high powered movie directors who will create them. This will raise the bar for mobile video in that movie quality content breaks new ground and could change the mobile movie game field in useful ways.

Other companies are also doing some of their short videos. Digiday reported on why Netflix and Amazon are experimenting with short-form video earlier this year. Here is what they wrote:

“Netflix, for instance, announced this week that it will air a new documentary series from BuzzFeed News called “Follow This,” which will follow BuzzFeed News journalists as they report interesting stories. The show will span 20 episodes, with each episode running for roughly 15 minutes. Amazon, too, is venturing into short-form video. Last fall, it commissioned three original digital shorts from Funny Or Die through its Prime Video Direct program, which allows video creators of all types — including those that specialize in short form — to upload videos to the Prime platform. This was the first time Amazon funded any original and exclusive content through the Prime Video Direct program. Hulu, meanwhile, hasn’t picked up any short-form video series, but is exploring the format as part of its original content strategy, a source said.”

How successful Quibi will determine how this part of mobile storytelling develops and gets accepted by the masses. They will not compete with the short videos we already have on YouTube or Facebook Videos, much of which is user created. This represents a new phase in mobile video, and it will be up to the writers and directors to craft their stories in this short form format, which is no small task. I have consulted on movie and TV projects in the past with scriptwriters as a technical consultant and know how hard it is to write a screenplay, especially for television, where the content represents only about 22 minutes. Now they have to tell a story in under 15 minutes, and it will take new levels of writing skills and creativity to achieve this.

I see Katzenberg’s and Whitman’s new company as essential trailblazers who will be delivering movie quality storytelling for small screens. If successful, it has the potential of raising the bar on next generation videos we will consume, especially on smartphones, and could be the catalyst that pushes other serious video creators to new levels of quality and innovation.