As one decade ends and another stretches out before us, it’s time to put old debates behind us and start anew. Today, we settle the debate on how long content should be.
The two-thousand teens were all about technology growing up and starting to show us what it can do rather than simply what it has the potential to do. That’s meant that each iteration of a smartphone has been duller than the last and content has been king. Now that damn fine internet speeds are widely-available and a connected device is in most pockets, we need all kinds of content to fill the glowing rectangle and performance is an afterthought.
Social media became the go-to well to tap for unlimited content and the results have been decidedly mixed. I don’t want to habitually log-on to Twitter but I need content. Crowdsourcing is the only way for supply to keep up with demand and in the meantime, our idea of how long an individual piece of entertainment or art should be has evolved.
The short-lived video sharing platform Vine saw the need for rules on content length. It told us that content should be no more than six-seconds long and it brought us more iconic moments over a period of four years than Hollywood managed to muster in a decade. But the tech gods can’t be expected to know a good thing when they see it. Vine’s overlords decided to shut the service down leaving a void for short and stupid videos that has since been filled by TikTok.
TikTok still places a 15-second limit on clips that are shot in the app but it allows users to cut multiple clips together for a max runtime of 60 seconds. If you need more time, you can make a video outside the app and upload it. The rule is: keep it short but ya know, whatever, it’s your follower count, pal.
And that laissez-faire attitude toward length has extended to all of the new forms of content out there. A GIF is as long as necessary and wonky file size permits. A tweet was 140 characters, then it was 280 characters, but it was really as long as you were willing to be insufferable in your mammoth tweet thread. An ASMR video can go on for 12 hours, and someone out there is actually tuning in from its beginning to its end whether they are paying attention or not. How long is the Distracted Boyfriend meme? As long as people keep churning ‘em out.
When it comes to more traditional content, length has also become more malleable and free. Traditional TV shows have played around with length in a way that has either been well-received or simply gone unnoticed. A season of TV can be anywhere from 3-30 episodes long and each episode no longer has to follow the strict standards of broadcast television. The first time I recall noticing this was with Netflix’s The OA. Some episodes were over an hour, one was around 30 minutes long. Everything was decided by what was necessary for the story. We didn’t even see the title sequence for The OA until 57 minutes into the first episode – that’s just where it belonged. Since then, Twin Peaks: The Return got even wilder with its erratic runtimes and virtually every major HBO show has taken liberties with the traditional hour-long timeslot. The infamous final episode of Game of Thrones clocked in at an hour and 20 minutes.
You’re probably thinking the whole point here is that length is arbitrary and all content should be exactly as long as it needs to be. Wrong. Dead wrong. We needed content and content has come. There’s a lot of it and no one has time to be messing around with content that’s too long. That brings us to the two troublesome genres of content. Movies and video games are too long.
Here are the new rules for 2020:
- Movies should be 90 minutes long.
- Blockbuster AAA games should be 30 hours long.
The most recent controversial movie runtime was Netflix’s The Irishman. Clocking in at three and a half hours, the Martin Scorsese crime epic was deemed “too long” by many people who were only a little bit right. That’s too long to sit in the cinema but it’s just fine to break up at home. Everyone wants to be a big baby and act as if they’re incapable of stopping the movie at the end of act 1 and continuing to watch it later. In the future, streaming services should just do the work of chopping up big stories like this into episodes for the whiners – no big deal.
Roger Ebert held the position that “No good movie is too long, and no bad movie is short enough.” This is wrong. But studios like Marvel have taken to making their blockbusters excruciatingly long to justify the expense of a trip to the cinema. Avengers: Endgame is a good movie that’s too long. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is an okay movie that feels too long because it rushes through its plot points without much care and fails to fully engage us.
There is a limit on how long a person can take in a film in one sitting. Everybody has to pee sometime. That’s why films that are longer than 90 minutes belong on streaming services with pause functions and even episode breaks if you insist. If a movie calls for a theatrical run, make it an event and do an intermission.
When it comes to video games, anything goes for inexpensive indie hits but the makers of big £50 blockbuster games feel an obligation to give people a lot of bang for their buck with a 60-100 hour completion time. This makes plenty of sense but from an artistic perspective and in the interest of giving fans the opportunity to get around to finishing more than a couple of games a year, 30 hours is just about the right length.
I didn’t finish any new video games this year. I finished a couple of games from last year but not a single one that was released in 2019. I’ve probably put about 20 hours into Death Stranding and my interest has hit a wall. I like it a lot! But I know there’s a lot more to go and I’ll have to come back to it someday. On the other hand, there’s The Outer Worlds, a game that reportedly clocks in around 20-25 hours and has made many people’s best of the year lists. I’m 15 hours into it and have no doubt that I’ll finish it soon. It honestly feels like it’ll end up being too short. That’s okay, always leave us wanting more – and when in doubt add some online content.
So take note creators of content and whiny consumers, these are the new rules for making content in 2020. It’s mostly anything goes except for movies and video games. Oh, and all blog posts should be about 400 words shorter than this one. Thank you for your time.