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In Praise of Short Videos: There's Too Much Good Content to Watch
The new golden age of TV is spilling over to the web, and it would take a lifetime of binge-watching to see it all. But the videos we really love are often bite-sized.

I saw the saddest thing the other day. TiVo came out with a new DVR called the Bolt. That’s not the sad thing. One of the Bolt’s new features is that the users can use QuickMode to speed through recorded shows more quickly.

“The new QuickMode, which allows for 30 percent faster viewing of recorded shows while maintaining perfect audio, enables the average viewer to potentially recapture a month of time in one’s life each year,” the press release reads.

The press release talks about skimming through news, sports, or long awards shows, but we know why TiVo really created the feature: So people can speed through the series they’re binge watching.

Now that’s sad. This is the new golden age of TV, full of fantastic shows on broadcast, cable, and premium cable, and we’re all trying to zoom through as quickly as we can so we can discuss them with friends who have already seen them.

It’s been conventional wisdom for a while now that there’s too much quality TV around. As someone who grew up with Knight Rider and Alf, I never thought I’d be saying that, but it’s true. In late September, the New York Times opinion pages held a discussion called “Is There Too Much TV to Choose From?” When Andy Samberg hosted this year’s Emmys he kicked it off with a filmed musical number about how he managed to watch all the TV he needed to see—by locking himself in a backyard bunker for a year.

This is the environment in which online video is trying to compete. It seems like every day I get a press release about online-only shows or networks that sound fantastic. The quality glut extends to the internet. I don’t have time to clear off my DVR, so when am I going to find time to watch these online shows? I started AOL’s Connected, but didn’t finish it. I’d love to see The Hotwives and The Awesomes on Hulu, but I don’t have time. I’ve never seen Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee on Crackle. I report on these shows; I wish I had time to watch them.

With all the pressure about video viewing, I started thinking about the online videos I do watch, the ones that call to me and that I return to watch over and over. Sometimes a Gregory Brothers song will get stuck in my head and I’ll have to go back and rewatch it. Sometimes it’s a favorite from The Lonely Island.

I wondered if other people have favorite videos they return to often, so I asked around. Some people told me about music performances on YouTube they liked to rewatch, such as a clip of Heart covering Led Zeppelin. Some said they rewatch comedy clips such as the classic Monkey Finger Sniff video, or the hilariously crass Epic Cat Song.

Some answers were personal. A marketing exec told me he liked to rewatch a YouTube video of his son kicking ass on a Rubik’s Cube. A video encoding exec told me his favorite videos were too personal to share.

A couple people told me that they never rewatch online videos. Both of them like to watch how-to videos when mastering a chore, and only rewatch them if they didn’t absorb the lesson the first time.

While these much-loved and rewatched videos differ in many ways, they have something in common: They’re short. As online video creators try to compete with TV for attention, I think they should remember why we fell in love with online video in the first place. We like short poignant or funny or catchy videos. They power us through our day. It’s a snack break. Don’t give us a full meal. What we need are more really great snacks.

This article appears in the November/December 2015 issue of Streaming Media magazine as “Too Much to Watch, Too Much to Enjoy.”

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