Audiences dust off the video essay

Despite everyone’s obsession with short-form video, the “video essay” is alive and well.

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Future. Despite everyone’s obsession with short-form video (TikTok, Reels, Spotlight, Shorts, etc.), the “video essay” is alive and well. The renewed focus on the long-form format may show that despite TikTok’s 15-seconds of fame… not every subject can be distilled down to a micro-explainer. Instead, “video essays” provide the best of mixing information with entertainment for those that live their lives on social platforms.

TikTok extends the clock
Are our attention spans coming back? Or did they never really go away? The returning (or simply sustaining) popularity of long-form video essays is making the case.

  • Video essays — videos anywhere from ten minutes to an hour — are typically a deep dive into some cultural, political, or social topic (essays for people who don’t want to read).
  • While YouTube has always been the home of video essays, other platforms are starting to expand the run times of their video offerings.
  • The biggest paradigm shift toward this new era is TikTok extending video lengths from three minutes to ten minutes — call it the rise of bite-sized video essays.
  • But there’s also a mix: creators are using short-form videos as primers to get people hooked on checking out their longer videos.

Additionally, the rise of a bonafide creator economy has developed an ecosystem where fans now fund video essayists to make their content longer and more polished.

Long takes
Throughout the 2010s, YouTube was the place for video essays, giving rise to a specific type of internet influencer that mixed the first-person narrative of vloggers with the production value of sketch comedians. In 2012, YouTube actually prioritized watch time over views (similar to how Netflix now counts hours-viewed as their main metric), which meant creators were actually incentivized to make longer videos.

But we know the narrative now: short and sweet became the content du jour. Yet, simultaneously, podcasts exploded into a massive industry — a format that thrives on a longer length. Analysts suggest that the popularity of podcasts, especially the new phenomenon of watching a podcast via YouTube or Spotify, put the spotlight (and attention span) back on video essays.

David Vendrell

Born and raised a stone’s-throw away from the Everglades, David left the Florida swamp for the California desert. Over-caffeinated, he stares at his computer too long either writing the TFP newsletter or screenplays. He is repped by Anonymous Content.


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