The landscape of effective storytelling is constantly changing. Arguably, the last ten years have seen more change than the 100 years that came before it. Notice, I said the “landscape” and not the storytelling itself. That’s because the basic ingredients of what makes a strong narrative are the same as they’ve always been; hooks, leading concepts and a journey of beginning, middle and end still rule the day when it comes to capturing an audience’s attention. What has changed are the containers we keep those ingredients in. Our definition of how we tell that story has been transformed by our primary consumption of media: our phones and the social platforms we use.
Anyone who has scrolled through their feeds has at the very least a cursory awareness that the shape of the videos has shifted towards the direction of squares and vertical rectangles. This is known as the aspect ratio, the first number being the width and the last being height. This revelation stands on the shoulders of the early 2000’s when we drifted towards the “widescreen” 16×9 formats of high definition video from the more square-shaped 4×3 of the standard definition world. We were told that wide was better since it more accurately reflected the wide angle we see with our eyes. Now with 91% of people owning smart phones and 77% of people using some kind of social site or app, our primary screen time is on our phones. Apps like TikTok and Instagram have shifted our acceptance of the vertical-shaped video. This hasn’t eliminated our old friend, the widescreen-eye-friendly shape. I t has just invited other parameters to the table of media consumption. Now, when we make content and design the shape of the media, we think about 1×1, 1.25×1, 9×16 and of course 16×9. In essence, our list of deliverables has grown and what we thought we knew about eyeball aesthetics has been challenged.
There used to be a handful of time slots to tell a story. Lengths were based on our perception of how long people would pay attention. Content was largely delivered as short and to-the-point. News segments were always one side fighting with the other for two and a half minutes — that was all people could handle. At least, that was the contemporary wisdom of the day. Now, with the success of the internet podcasters, we see segments that are 3 hours long that can tackle the nuances of current and past events with the attention they deserve.
Ads are getting longer. Big brands like Subaru, Toyota, Adidas, and others are making advertisements that look like more like short movies than the traditional commercial spot. The logic is that longer ads will gain the trust of the audience more by incorporating cinematic elements like character development, plot and a relatable story. In essence, this gives advertisers a pathway to merge with entertainment in a more compelling fashion.
With the rise of streaming services, audiences are now more engaged in television mostly because it gives them more. Where we once thought of a three-hour movie as long, now we’ll sit through 12 or more hours of content. “Binge-watching” is now a term in our cultural vocabulary.
But longer isn’t always better. With the rise of TikTok, audiences can now scroll through a video feed of 15 second clips. Some of them are super funny, some of them give great advice, and others are just mindless escapes from reality. This trend brought others in the fold. With Instagram reels and YouTube shorts offering similar experiences, we are now concurrently seeing a thirst for shorter content alongside the longer-content cousin.
Shaking some of our conceptions about the rules of video has been the mission statement of the current media landscape. But what can we expect to see in the near future? Here’s a couple of trends that are sure to develop more in the years to come:
Shoppable videos – Here, you can add clickable items on a video that can take you to a store like Shopify. Like that yellow shirt she’s wearing? Just click on it and you can buy it in seconds.
Here’s a video explaining the basics. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXuutvVhoVw&t=36s
360 Degree video – What better way to experience something (other than being there) than by a 360 degree experience. You can now watch a video and click around the room to see a full view of the entire area. This is perfect for real estate, amusement parks or in the case of the video in this link, airlines. Be sure to click on the arrows in the upper left. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rc26i8c2Ns8
Animated Explainer Videos – Less of a future thing and more of a now thing, these are popular because they are a great way to teach by illustration and words. They can be very effective at breaking down complex topics into a simplified explanation — like this Ted Ed video about hair in humans. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wd18yfQqa8A
Although this is just an overview of some observations, it does highlight some of the changes in the landscape where we consume media content. What we thought piques our interest has changed. As media content creators, we need to pivot and meet the audiences where they are. There still are traditional outlets like cable TV, newspapers, etc. But those are going away in lieu of a personalized digital feed. A story made just for you. In some ways that’s pretty scary, but in other ways, there is opportunity to innovate and create.