The 7-minute rule of online video

By Hanna Kouri


Helsinki, Finland


I have always been impatient, and sometimes I have an attention span of a 5-year-old. That’s exactly how most readers behave on mobile devices when using news media.

In the beginning of online video development, it was common to think a moving image was a moving image, regardless of the device. Most legacy news media companies started online video production with programmes very similar to those shown on linear television.

All discovered the same results: People weren’t interested in watching traditional TV news on newspapers’ Web sites. What they were interested in was real-time news broadcasts or short clips about the action.

The average length of a linear half-hour TV programme is 24 minutes plus six minutes for advertisements at the beginning and in the middle. For hour-long programmes, there are 48 minutes’ worth of programming and 12 minutes of advertisements.

The most popular online videos are, on average, from the tens of seconds to a few minutes. There are very few news clips that audiences want to watch for more than a few minutes.

When it comes to online native video programmes, the critical length seems to be seven minutes: That’s the attention span of audiences for online videos on news sites. Of course, there are exceptions like live breaking news situations, sport games, and the most important political debates. For those, the advantage of the online environment is that they can last an unlimited time because there are no programme maps in an online universe like there are on linear TV.

That seems to be a challenge for traditional production companies. Because linear TV can take up so much of a budget, many now try to offer their programmes and ideas to Web TV sites. Many of them think they can sell the linear TV format directly to Web TV – talk shows, dramas, comedies, lifestyle programmes – all with an episode length of 24 minutes.

ISTV gives readers what they want on a news Web site: Real-time news, not traditional TV.
ISTV gives readers what they want on a news Web site: Real-time news, not traditional TV.

A few of those we have tried for online native have been in a seven-minute format (online native meaning we haven’t taken a programme created for liner TV and edited or shortened it). Instead, the programmes have been planned from the beginning for the online video format.

In some cases, they have worked pretty well. Here are few of our programmes: one comedy and one talk show. (Sorry, they are mostly in Finnish, but you get the idea.)

The same principle applies for pre-rolls as well. When pre-rolls were launched, they were generally sold with the idea that you can use your TV commercials as they exist online.


Sure, you can use them as they are if the online content is the same as what is shown on linear TV. It doesn’t differ much if one watches Good Wife from linear TV on a TV screen or from a linear TV channel’s online site with an iPad from the comfort of the living room coach. The TV commercial works, then, as the pre- and mid-rolls as well.

However, if people want to watch a video clip that is only a few minutes long or a seven-minute programme from a news site, you can probably guess whether they are very happy to see three 30-second pre-rolls before it.

Want to test this theory? Find a 5-year-old and watch how he reacts. That’s very likely how your audience behaves with online videos on mobile.

About Hanna Kouri

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