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Learn the Hidden Laws of Online Video

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Art or science? Debates have raged since video first crawled its way off silver screens and onto the internet. How much focus should be placed on the content? What technology should be used to create the optimum format? How do you craft the perfect viral video? Whether you fall on the art or science side of video creation, we all agree that there are certain guidelines that have been born out of years of testing. Three-point lighting, appropriate audio levels, and high-resolution originals for encoding -- these are all basic rules we try to follow. But like any good artist or scientist, we need to know what the hard-and-fast rules for online video are in order to truly be successful. So whether you spend hours agonizing over what color filter to use or have lengthy debates on the merits of HTML5, these laws of online video will educate artists and scientists alike.

The Wadsworth Constant

The best laws are birthed in spontaneous moments. And if you have visited Reddit.com, it should be no surprise that our first online video law had its “Eureka!” moment in the comment section underneath a post on how to fold bedsheets. After watching a 1 minute and 43 second how-to video, Redditor Wadsworth commented, “For EVERY [YouTube] video, I always open the video and then immediately punch the slider bar to about 30 percent. For example, in this video, it should have just started at :40. Everything before :40 was a waste. This holds true for nearly every video in the universe.” The commenter proclaimed that this should be named the Wadsworth Constant, and the rest is history. Articles were written, Wadsworth calculator sites created, definitions added to online dictionaries, and even YouTube got involved. Need more proof that this deserves to be a law? You can still add “&wadsworth=1” to the end of any YouTube link and it will skip to 30 percent to begin playing.

The Wadsworth Constant has been distilled to this simple statement: The first 30 percent of any video can be skipped because it contains no worthwhile or interesting information. Obeying this law is a great way to cut all the fluff and get to the meat of what your audience wants to watch.

The Ubiquitous Cat Video Theorem

The second law of online video is actually a theory. After years of watching cat videos, I feel that scientific methods needed to be used to test The Ubiquitous Cat Video Theorem. This theorem states that for every known word, there is a related cat video. With an input formula of (insert random word here) + “cat video”, typed into Google search, there will be a corresponding cat video. An example is the search string “grumpy cat video”, which brings up the original grumpy cat YouTube video with more than 12 million views.

I tested this theorem by pulling three random words from an online word generator and was met with positive results. A search for “hockey cat video” returned a YouTube video of Dave the cat watching hockey, with almost 3 million views. The second search for “scissors cat video” brought up a video of a cat walking with a pair of scissors on its back. To fully test this theorem, I upped the toughness level to expert and typed in “paramecium cat video.” Sure enough, there is a 52-second YouTube video of a paramecium dancing through a microscope to the Nyan Cat theme song.

While the Ubiquitous Cat Video Theorem needs more testing (I would encourage you to conduct your own experiments and let me know the results), there is enough evidence to add it to the (admittedly small) list of online video laws. While the practical applications of this law remain to be discovered, there is one truth to be gleaned from the results. With more than 100 hours of video uploaded to just YouTube every minute, chances are if it exists (or doesn’t exist), there is probably video of it.

The debates will continue on what the best ingredients are for online video. Some will fall on the side of art, while others will gravitate to the side of science. But the laws of online video will stay constant, guiding us all to millions of views. And here’s the proof: If we had replaced the first 30 percent of this column with a picture of Grumpy Cat, you’d have been sold on reading the entire piece.

This article appears in the October/November 2013 issue of Streaming Media magazine as "The Two Laws of Online Video."

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