I’ll be spending the next several weeks really diving into developing my ideas for a cartoon series (which I’ve mentioned every now and then on this blog for while). I’m putting together a pitch and will try my best to sell it. If that doesn’t pan out (it’s a super-competitive market, after all), I might look into Internet distribution.
Two things got me thinking about the Internet as a form of video distribution. First, there was this post on Cartoon Brew. I myself have often wondered about the possibilities of marketing cartoon content on the Internet. No one has really figured out how to monetize videos yet, except in very limited ways (ads on YouTube, mainly, which don’t pay nearly enough to guarantee an income for someone just starting out; making a living off of YouTube ad revenue takes a combination of continuous hard work and luck; that is, you can’t guarantee a ton of people will see your work like you can if your work appears on a popular TV channel).
I was also recently thinking about the art of film editing after having watched The Cutting Edge – The Magic of Movie Editing. The documentary makes mention of the fact that audiences today seem more capable of handling (or are more hungry for) extremely fast-paced rapid cuts (such as during chase scenes and fight scenes). And I took particular note of something director Martin Scorsese said about this:
What I’m afraid of is the tendency for everything to go by quickly and I’m afraid of what it does to the culture… a sense of consuming something and throwing it away as opposed to being enveloped with something, taking the time to see and experience time in a different way.
If you take a look at what sorts of comedy videos become popular on YouTube (such as Fred, The Annoying Orange, Smosh, etc.), they share one main important feature: short length. These video creators do not ask viewers to become involved in a story the way TV shows and movies do. They are short and gag-driven.
Why is this the case?
It is my theory (not that I’m the only one to have this theory, of course) that it is because when viewers watch videos on the Internet, they are close to their keyboards. They are ready to type chat messages with their friends on Facebook. They are ready to watch the next video on the side of YouTube. They are ready to load up a new website. It’s just so easy to be distracted, to go on to something else, that they are probably not going to sit through a 22-minute or 43-minute or 90-minute video narrative of something they’ve never seen before. (By narrative video, I mean a fiction-story-driven video, not a documentary or a lecture or an interview, etc.)
If they want to have that sort of longer video watching experience, they’ll go to the TV, where they have a more comfortable seat, a better viewing distance, and less distractions. Or they’ll turn their TV on while they do something else and use the TV’s narrative as a background experience. (Which really isn’t great for your mind, but if you’re working on something dull, like folding laundry or history homework, it can help the time go by.)
If you want the best distraction-free narrative viewing, you go to the movie theater. The lights are dimmed, people’s cell phones should be off, there’s no rewind button, there’s no house phone, there’s no refrigerator for you to get a drink from, there are no commercials… it’s just you and the movie. You go there to be absorbed entirely in the story of the movie.
So… my point is that if we’re going to try to monetize the narrative video viewing experience on the Internet like it’s monetized with advertising on the TV, we have to take into account all the possible distractions people have while they sit on their computers. If you want to distribute a 22-minute cartoon episode (or really anything over 5 minutes), maybe force full-screen? Er… I’m not sure I can think of anything else that might help counter the distraction problem at the moment, but I think that’s what video distributors need to be thinking about: how to stop viewers from being distracted. Until then, I think the classic TV in the living room will remain the dominant distribution method for longer narratives.
That said, Internet TVs will, I think, certainly change things. At least they have the potential to as they become more popular. It will be interesting to see whether they make longer narrative videos more popular on the Internet or introduce more distractions into the normal TV-watching experience. Or both. But I think that’s the boat to be on. I think YouTube is simply too distraction-driven for longer narratives to find potential audiences.
(That said, even with Internet TVs, there will still be no guaranteed way to make money off your content; the competition is simply too strong. Luck will always be a factor, no matter the content or the manner of distribution. We can not hold up something like The Annoying Orange and claim it became popular for some innate reason. Likewise, we can not hold up some video that failed to become popular and claim its unpopularity was due to some innate flaw or some sort of artistic ignorance. Success simply can’t be mathematically manufactured; it is a product of a social system far too complex to design for.)