Are audiences ready for longer content on social media?


Social platforms are making plays for more advertiser dollars, but should brand managers jump on the opportunity? A new report from eMarketer offers some guidance.

Just a few years ago, video on these platforms was all about the short and sweet. Creators were told to focus mainly on “snackable” pieces that could be consumed quickly.

Today, the hot new thing is long-form video. Last year, Facebook reportedly spent up to $1 billion on lengthier content and Google dedicated hundreds of millions of dollars to original YouTube programming. Twitter has invested heavily in live video streams, especially from sports leagues. Snapchat now has shows from major media companies and Instagram got into the game last year with its IGTV offering.

Why are social platforms pushing shows and other long-form content? Are consumers watching? Are advertisers interested? Is social set to dethrone television and platforms like Netflix in the coming years?

Recently, eMarketer published an in-depth report examining these questions.

Here are five key questions answered by the data:

1. Why are social media companies focused on longer content?

In part, because over the past few years this type of content has been proven to work online.

According to ThinkNow Research data cited by eMarketer, some 61 percent of adult Americans say they now watch shows on Netflix, 33 percent on Amazon Prime Video, and 24 percent on Hulu. This demonstrates that a sizable share of people have become used to watching lengthier digital pieces.

More important, watching online video, especially on mobile devices, is becoming central to the lives of consumers. The report from eMarketer estimates that 84 percent of internet users will be frequent watchers of digital video content by 2021 and 83 percent will be using mobile devices to watch video content. This means that there will be an increased demand for digital video in the coming years.

2. Does money have something to do with the shift?

Social networks aren’t diving into long-firm video simply because they see a potential for engaging audiences. The larger opportunity, at least from a business perspective, is to garner a larger share of advertising dollars.

According to IAB data, as cited by eMarketer, half of agency and marketing professionals plan to increase their spend on social media videos in the near future and 40 percent plan to increase their spend on TV shows online.

Expanding into long-form video solves two problems for the platforms. It opens up additional inventory for brands looking to advertise via video on social media and it entices marketers looking to advertise via online TV shows.

3. Are consumers willing to watch longer content on social media?

The shift to long-form video clearly makes sense for the social platforms, but is it actually what audiences want? After years of being conditioned to expect short clips on various networks, are people open to lengthier content on platforms like Facebook?

The answer appears to be—at least right now—that younger audiences are much more ready for this shift than older audiences.

According to a Shareablee survey cited by eMarketer, some 47 percent of social media users in the US ages 18–24 say they would watch their favorite television shows on social media. This compares with 38 percent of social media users ages 25–54 and just 23 percent of social media users age 55+.


4. Are longer videos on social media already seeing success?

According to a Cowen and Company survey, 51 percent of U.S. social media users now watch video on Facebook. Forty-eight percent watch on Instagram, and 30 percent watch on Twitter.

The status of long-form pieces is harder to discern. A Morgan Stanley AlphaWise survey, as cited by eMarketer, found that 40 percent of U.S. Facebook users age 16 and older say they now view Facebook Watch content weekly. However, a Raymond James survey found that three-quarters of US Facebook users say they never view Facebook Watch content.

5.What is the long-term future for longer videos on social media?

Given that long-form pieces on social media are relatively new, the more pessimistic estimates on current viewing behavior could very well be correct. It’s very likely that audiences have not yet fully embraced this sort of content.

However, that doesn’t mean that they won’t. An IAB survey, as cited by eMarketer, found that while only 40 percent of US consumers now stream live video on social media platforms, 52 percent of consumers worldwide do so. There might be a gap between current behavior in America and what audiences are open to.

The key takeaway for marketers is that while longer video on social media may experience some growing pains in the short-term, it’s primed to be hugely important in the future. There are number of underlying factors—ongoing shifts in audience behaviors, the rise of younger consumers, increasing advertiser demand, etc.—which indicate that the shift toward lengthier pieces on social media is here to stay.

Though shows on social may not be fully there yet, they likely will become very big, very soon.


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