What is a show?

27 07 2009

What is a show? Why does duration matter? Why the need to classify?

A show is a video production that tells a story with a beginning, middle and end. I agree with the idea presented in the Online Video Insider post that a show is also “any periodically produced branded content.” In many cases, length may not matter as long as the show is telling a complete story. That’s the beauty of the Internet and the opportunities it has created: Shows no longer have to fit into a 30- or 60-minute time frame. As Dina Kaplan, co-founder of Blip.tv, told The New York Times, “On the Web, producers have this delicious freedom to produce content as long as it should be. They’re starting to take advantage of that.” The Times article points out that “storytelling is superceding the stopwatch.” Quality – not length – is determining whether people will watch content.

There is the tendency to classify web content because, until recently, our categories for classifying media made sense. It used to be pretty simple: There were TV shows, and there were movies, and there were those in-betweens like made-for-TV movies. Now that everyone can be a content creator – and that content can range from a 30-second clip of a baby to an independently produced feature film – those old classifications no longer apply.

Unlike a TV, you aren’t likely to have a web show on in the background of your living room. On the web, you actively seek out a show; you’re not just watching whatever is on. One reason that duration matters is that if people are watching shows online, they are not using their computer for other purposes. (Unless, like me, they occasionally watch a show on one laptop while using another laptop to surf the Web or do work.)

Personally, I’ve never been all that interested in the viral videos you find on YouTube. I watch videos made by my friends and family, and often watch them in their entirety because I’m interested in the story (my niece taking her first steps, for example). Although I think the content should determine the length of a video, I do think that half-hour TV shows work well on the web. I excitedly watch the previous night’s episode of “The Daily Show” on Hulu every day. The 21-minute episodes feel like just the right amount of time. I often watch while I’m eating lunch or when I need to take a short break from doing work on my laptop. But I generally dislike the short TV show clips that you find on Hulu and other video sites. I often feel cheated, like the site is trying to pretend it has more of a show’s episodes than it actually does. In the context of a traditional TV show, perhaps I’m conditioned to want a fuller episode. If “The Daily Show” were a web show, I might be used to varying lengths and not expect a half-hour (well, 21-minute) episode. On that same note, I often watch short clips of “SNL Digital Shorts” and sketches from “Saturday Night Live.” In this case, I’m conditioned to expect short content. I’d rather choose funny sketches than watch an entire “SNL” episode online. I will also watch short “web exclusive” clips for sitcoms I already love, such as “The Office.” So perhaps short TV show clips work better when the viewer already knows and likes the characters and background.




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