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  • Cooper Gould

Disrupting TV: How Short-form Video is Upending the Entertainment Industry

The Big Three

We are on our phones all the time; American adults spending an average of 3 hours and 35 minutes per day on their mobile device, and that figure is increasing by about 11 minutes per year. With such rapid growth, mobile screen time is set to surpass television screen time in 2019.

This trend represents a massive shift for the entertainment industry. The Big Three in the media streaming industry (Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon) have all committed to increasing the amount of content featured which is optimized for mobile. This does not necessarily mean just changing video windows and loading settings to allow viewers to mimic the TV experience on phones; it also indicates a move towards new styles and formats for the content itself.

“Premium short-form” is a term now buzzing around the industry. Although short-form has a loose definition, it typically represents episodic content that’s shorter than the standard 22-minute TV episode. Content shorter than 22 minutes has already been making a splash on major streaming platforms. Netflix and Amazon have already introduced several series with 10-15 minute long episodes, and Hulu has announced that short-form would be a priority in its original content.

Viewing functionality is changing as well. Netflix for example, has released a feature on its mobile app where viewers can watch trailers in vertical orientation. For the 25% of time Netflix viewers spend watching shows on mobile devices, (up to 75% in some markets) these additions are clear steps towards optimizing content for a growing mobile audience.

The Short-Form Movement

Although the Big Three have only recently started directing their focus to short-form, it has been a popular feature of online streaming for a long time. YouTube has hosted extremely popular short-form series for years, and web series productions like College Humor and Funny or Die have been running successfully for years with wide viewership and acclaim. Facebook has also had some recent success with its new offering Watch, that features short-form episodic content such as “Ball in the Family,” a reality show documenting the life of NBA star Lonzo Ball and his family. Although Facebook is looking to expand into longer form content production, as well as live event coverage, short-form video series are a major component of the platform.

2019 is also set to see the release of NewTV, a new streaming platform being launched by former chairman of Disney Studios, Jeff Katzenberg and former CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Meg Whitman. With over $1 billion invested in the company from Disney, Alibaba, and Comcast’s NBCUniversal, the new streaming service hopes to do for short-form what HBO did to television in 1990.

The inauguration of NewTV and the involvement of the Big Three in the short-form movement represent the value of “premium” content. The standard for short-form content has risen above shaky iPhone videos or grainy webcam recordings. The demand now is for high-quality media to be available all the time, right in every viewer’s pocket. While YouTube has provided vast, free, and on-demand access to literally billions of short online videos, well-produced short-form content is likely to move increasingly into dedicated platforms and behind subscription walls.

Implications for the Entertainment Industry

This shift is radically changing the entertainment industry. Budgets for high-quality short-form content are typically less than the $10,000-$25,000 per minute expenditures on longer features. That benchmark might rise once the Big Three and NewTV solidify themselves as leaders in short-form, but production costs generally tend to be much lower than those incurred by traditional film or TV studios.

Some influencers and public figures have also seen great success collaborating with lean agencies to produce high-quality content while bypassing the major studios. For instance, NBA star Kevin Durant co-founded the media venture Thirty Five Media, which produces the web series “Still KD” that airs on YouTube. In addition to developing his own series, Thirty Five Media partners with other NBA players to create their own series while documenting their off-the-court lives. Rather than partnering with TV studios, this model offers direct collaboration between players and directors, allowing for the players to exercise a great deal of creative control within a nimble and versatile production format.

Especially for this type of documentary-style approach, the short-form format represents a significant opportunity for smaller production outfits to snag the kinds of deals previously only available to large studios and agencies. Imagine a collaboration for example, between a public figure with a large audience and platform, a talented director, and a skilled PR team. This structure might allow for a powerful new content studio to emerge virtually overnight.

We have yet to really see how the major TV networks will respond the short-form movement, but it seems like they are likely several steps behind. Extremely well-made short-form content is already being created on comparatively smaller budgets. The influx of the Big Three and NewTV to the market may HBO-ify the distribution mechanisms for short-form and mobile-friendly content, but it will also likely it will open the door for new-era media ventures to grab a foothold in this emerging landscape. For now we’ll just have to keep an eye out for where the short-form movement takes us, and of course keep on watching.


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