Image: HBO/The TVDB

20-Minute Episodes of 'Game of Thrones' Are Just About Ads

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson thinks we only want to watch Jon Snow 20 minutes at a time on our phones. Is he right?

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May 26 2017, 3:00pm

Image: HBO/The TVDB

AT&T is gearing up to buy Time Warner for $85.4 billion and though it's assured there wouldn't be any changes to HBO or CNN content, there's talk of curating shows such as Game of Thrones "uniquely" for mobile environments, namely by shrinking the 60-minute episodes to 20-minute installments.

Jason Urgo, CEO of YouTube analytics firm Social Blade, told Motherboard that according to data pulled from over 12,000 channels over the month of May, "there is evidence that, on average, a video when viewed on mobile will have less watchtime than any other platform."

He found that videos watched on phones and tablets averaged 3.5 minutes of watchtime while computers averaged 5.2 minutes. Televisions, unsurprisingly, won out with 10.3 minutes.

"When taking a macro look into watchtime habits, yes there is evidence that shorter is better on mobile," he said. "That being said, this data pool is not pulling out highly produced content, and instead is more of your typical YouTube video, so results may be different when looking at specific content types."

This notion of optimum length remains behind as a kind of remnant ghost that no longer has much bearing on anything.

Television producer Michael Rosenblum, credited with building the first major videojournalism-driven local TV news operation, sees no basis behind the "shorter is better" argument.

"Mobile does not have to mean short, although if you are holding your phone in your hand, there is only so long that you are going to hold it for," he told Motherboard in an email.

"The whole notion of the optimum length of videos (or a TV show, if that is not now an anachronistic term) is an abstraction," he said. "TV shows were broken into 60-minute or 30-minute chunks because that kept the schedules neat (in the days when it was appointment linear TV watching). As content moved and continues to move to online non-linear, this notion of optimum length remains behind as a kind of remnant ghost that no longer has much bearing on anything."

But are shorter videos more profitable?

Rosenblum explains that back when storage space was expensive—"when YouTube was founded, a gig of drive cost a few hundred dollars," he says—shorter videos made more financial sense. But even though that's not the case anymore—"today, terabytes are pretty close to free"—shorter videos are probably still more lucrative because of pre-rolls, the online video commercials that appears before your video starts.

"Run an hour and you get one pre-roll. Cut the hour into 30 2-minute segments and you get 30 pre-rolls," Rosenblum explains.

Urgo, the Social Blade CEO, added that "a lot of big creators have for a while been making 10+ minute videos because that unlocks the ability to add more ads to them."

"Whether it actually turns into more income though would require more research," he said.