Feb 132016

As we sit and brainstorm about businesses and business models, one key discussion revolves around video. How long should be the video. As someone working in video, the answer traditionally would have been, the duration it takes to tell the story. But, in a world where consumption of video is on a smartphone, by a distracted millenial, do the old theories still hold.

One second, can you tell a story in one second ? There is someone who did. Cesar Kuriyama, shot a second almost every day to try and tell a story of what makes his life special. As he describes it

The purpose of this project is, one: I hate not remembering things that I’ve done in the past. There’s all these things that I’ve done with my life that I have no recollection of unless someone brings it up, and sometimes I think, “Oh yeah, that’s something that I did.” And something that I realized early on in the project was that if I wasn’t doing anything interesting, I would probably forget to record the video.

The story, however, only makes sense when edited together to tell a larger story. Confession : i still don’t get it – it looks pretty, and has nice shots, but the visuals are montages, but like most modern forms of Art, i really don’t get it. As a personal, individual visual experiment, it is interesting. But, i am not sure we are going to see a surfeit of 1 second videos in the near future.  Incase you want to experiment with one second story telling, there is an app for it.

While one second may remain experimental, how long should a video be. Too short, and you may not deliver content. Too long, it may end up not getting consumed. Given that most video is getting consumed on the mobile, shorter rather than longer is the way to go, at least that is conventional wisdom. And, the nature of the narrative has changed.

Viewers are seeing video content in more places by more brands than ever before. And because of this, their attention spans are getting shorter and their expectations are becoming greater. Marketers have just 10 seconds to capture and engage an audience before they continue to scroll down or click away; and engagement drops off significantly beyond that. If you have not fully engaged your audience after the first 30 seconds, you’ve likely lost 33% of viewers; and after one minute, 45% of viewers have stopped watching.

Conversations on creating digital video, now, are as likely to focus on what the thumb nail image should be, as what should be the opening scene.

There is still no one answer on duration. No one size fits all. I have been trawling through youtube and vimeo. There are videos there over an hour in duration, with millions and millions of views, and then there are really short content 3 minutes or less, with less than a 100 views. It all depends on how well you tell a story, i have seen 2 hour documentaries that have been so incredibly well told that i didn’t even look at the time once. On the other hand, i have seen 7-8 minute films that are so badly made, that viewing it feels like being stuck in eternity.

In India, the rapid proliferation of smartphones in the sub Rs.5000 category, and the anticipated unclogging of bandwidth has led to a tremendous amount of buzz in the digital video space. Content is being created, in different shapes and sizes, different languages and genres, to prepare for the boom. Where ever you go you will hear the buzz words – MCN, OTT, digital video, serialised story telling, and the rest. And, it is expected to be big. But, the question still remains – what is the optimal length of the video.

If you searched google for the ‘average length of video consumed on youtube’ you will get results all over the place. some will say 2 minutes, others will say 3. yet others will say, under 5 minutes. I read one which said less than 20 minutes. The answer is not as clear cut. When you look at the average time, it includes at one end of the spectrum, really long videos (20 minutes + , and the really short ones – and they have averaged out the time spent0.

I would maintain, do not sacrifice narrative for time. The narrative is the key. People watch a story, they don’t watch the clock (if they watched the clock, the film maker has done something wrong).

There are apps for creating really short videos (sub 20 seconds) , there is Vine, Periscope, snapchat, MixBit. and while there are people creating, co-creating and the rest, I am not really sure about consumption. How many of you will consume, someone else’s home video equivalent? Maybe 1 of them in a million. maybe, lesser.

We can, of course, professionally, create 15 and 20 second video narratives. This is usually the duration of a good TV commercial. But, then the costs go through the roof, and you really don’t know whether it would work or not. I still have to wrap my brain around a 15 second narrative. One could possibly do that for news. But, a story in 15 seconds – is a bit more difficult as a proposition. You could, of course, serialise it. Create a 10 minute film, in scenes that don’t exceed 15-20 seconds. Put those scenes up sequentially and hope that people view the next episode.  you could do that. but, would that be a gimmick or a way of adapting to consumer rhythms of consumption – i still don’t know.

Which brings me to Shield 5 – touted as a 28 part series on Instagram, no episode lasts more than 15 seconds. In other words, it is a 7 minute film, constructed with 28 scenes of 15 seconds each. According to the Guardian

For the time being, the Instagram TV series remains a work-in-progress – but we shouldn’t write off the genre before it’s even gotten off the ground. Instagram Video’s rival platform Vine, whose six-second video time is even more restrictive, has produced plenty of funny and creative standalone vids that make a virtue of the platform’s brevity. There’s no reason that someone couldn’t tell a layered, complex and engrossing story in seconds rather than hours.

will it work?  i honestly don’t know. i might watch it to see how it was constructed. comic strip type story telling for a new medium – you have to find the right stories to tell. Otherwise they are just gimmicks to break through the clutter, and attract attention.


Feb 112016

This morning’s amusement was Amol Rajan, editor of the British Paper, Independent, stating that his paper was going to refer to Mumbai as Bombay, to prevent “Hindu Nationalists” from getting their way

“The whole point of Bombay is of an open, cosmopolitan port city, the gateway of India that’s open to the world. If you call it what Hindu nationalists want you to call it, you essentially do their work for them.”

Obviously, it caused a storm (also known as an outrage) in the twitter teacup.

The Independent, is owned by the Russian Oligarch Alexander Lebedev, and has been struggling for mindspace and audiences, since it launched in 1986.

Given that they are reacting to an even that took place over 2 decades ago – Bombay officially became Mumbai in 1995, and a few generations of Indians (at least 3 by my reckoning) have grown up knowing Bombay as Mumbai, one can’t but help wonder about the timing of this. I can understand, if they took this stand in 1995. But, 2016, is late reaction even by print standards.

But, given that one believes in the Freedom of Expression, and the right of people to behave in inexplicable ways, i have some suggestions for Mr.Rajan, in terms of nomenclature

  • Refer to the USA as The Colonies or The New World– that should be the simplest. The first lot of colonies to go independent. Post that there was the genocide on the native Americans, mass colonisation and violation of human rights and the rest. modern history (post world war) has 2 nuclear bombings, the devastation of south east Asia, the cock up in the middle east, the screw up in South America. And, these are just things that i can rattle off without too much research. there are a lot more, and the Brits should stand up for human rights and freedoms by reverting to the British name for America. Also it will cock a snook at Mr.Trump #justsaying
  • Caledonia – was the ancient name for Scotland. And, since we live in a post colonial world, it is time that we reverted to ancient names, and not allow the colonial apologists to win :) It will also, confuse the Scottish National Party.
  • Eire – well Northern Eire, sounds a lot nicer than Northern Ireland
  • Chai – well, chai is much nicer than Tea. Besides, Tea is a term associated with bonded labour, forced plantations, and environmental degeneration. Time to change that too.
  • Arabia – dudes, the ‘Middle East’ is to the west for most of the world’s population. Stop using geographically inaccurate terms, and those that  are intrinsically wrong. Revert to Arabia, or the Arabian peninsula.
  • Bedouins – before Saudi Arabia came to be, and it’s citizens were called Saudi Arabians, they were the Bedu’s – tribes that ruled the Arabian peninsula. They seemed a lot nicer than modern Saudi Arabia. Atleast they didn’t export Wahabism and Salafism, and set the world on fire. Can we please revert to that too.

I could go on and on, but you get the drift. Besides, in a start up mode, i cannot afford the time to be too snarky about the silliness of the world.

Sufficient to say, Mumbai is neither intolerant, nor is it non inclusive, and it is cosmopolitan – except not in a western, elitist definition of cosmopolitan. It just is a name for the city – an ancient name based on an ancient goddess who is the guardian of the place.

Before i sign off, a cynical theory. Why is a British newspaper taking a stand on Indian city names. The answer is quite simple. India is a major source of web traffic. The Guardian has 7.5% of it’s total web audience from India, and this does not include the Indian diaspora (so if you were wondering, why the Guardian carries so much content on India, you have your answer). And, the best way to attract audiences, is to cause a controversy in a twitter tea cup. Outrage drives pageviews (but, those don’t last).



(Guardian, source Alexa)

Similarly, the Independent has a sizable chunk of it’s audience coming in from India

independent(The Independent : Source Alexa)

If i were trying to increase traffic numbers, i hopefully will desist doing something this inane, and try and improve the quality of content :) And, to the team at independent, if you want to get a better insight into targeting Indian audiences, call me :)


Dec 072015

At times when i see Christmas Ads, i feel like Scrooge.

Most of them, especially the firang ones, tend to be full of cheer, laughter, great looking people, great looking food and extended families who love being together, in joyous harmony – and after a point a surfeit of them can drive me towards acute nausea, caused by excessive sweetness. (it has begun happening with diwali ads too).

But, this rather morbid humour ad, from Germany, has turned the formula on its’ head. And the impact is emotional. I found myself tearing up.

The story is simple, and possibly closer to reality than most ‘festivities’ ads are. Old man, widower. Empty nest. Children have moved away, leading their own lives, and he is going to celebrate X’mas alone. yet again.From the treatment it is evident that this is normal behavior by his children, and he is terribly lonely and yearns for their presence.

The children get a message that he has died, and they return home for the funeral …

This is just the kind of stunt my dad would have pulled, if we were like the children in the ad.

The brand in question, is the largets German supermarket chain, Edeka. And, i am not quite certain what the ad has to do with supermarkets . There are ads that win prizes, and there are ads that sell products. This is possibly the former.

Oct 302015


As though interaction on twitter wasn’t reductionist enough (although, immensely enjoyable & addictive) – they have introduced a binary poll. Yes or no. It is great fun, terribly addictive and requires even lesser interaction. I am expecting polls to take the form of – should I have chappati for breakfast or should I have toast. Should i wear pink nail polish or should it be green. Should i have cream on the top, or fat free coffee. Does this dress look better on me, or does this top ? Random, everyday decisions where others jam in to help, otherwise mundane decisions. It could also help for finding preferences – do you prefer Modi or Gandhi ? Do you prefer family drama or murder mysteries.



I asked this, of my TL on twitter

And the answer was more surprising than i believed. More people on my TL felt that political content was interesting than not. My experience looking at traffic trends tells me, that yes people are interested in political content, but more are interested in entertainment content. On any given day, a piece on Bigg Boss 9 will do better than a piece of political content -unless it is some politician shooting his (and, usually it is his) mouth off, and trying to create a media stir.

The sample size, of course, is low. And, rather uniform – users of twitter. English speaking. Following my posts. Possibly with a higher degree of ‘news’ consumption than those who follow a film handle or use twitter for mere interaction.

Other users of twitter weren’t so boring (as my poll makes me) – Here is @shubhashish with a classic take on a old question



Oct 252015

I have been reading, marking and re reading bits of Orwell’s essays, that form part of a collection i got for next to nothing, in one of the amazon sales.

The essay I really enjoyed was on the author and social commentator, Charles Dickens. I haven’t read of all Dicken’s works. Great Expectations, Pickwick Papers, Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, and David Copperfield – i remember having read. Of these, the only one’s that have left a mark are the Tale of Two Cities – Madam Defarge gave me nightmares; Oliver Twist – Faggin and Sikes were memorable characters; and i remember crying for Nancy; and Great Expectations – Ms.Haversham was the single spookiest character in English literature of that era. I have seen a number of adaptations of Dickens’ works, when i was a student. And, i really never thought too much beyond the fact that it was a good narrative.

Reading Orwell on Dickens, kind of slightly shifted my reading of Dickens. All authors tend to be recorders of their era. Even if the book is a love story, the milieu and social mores become very evident in the background information about the characters or the settings. And, given Dickens’ themes – the question asked is – what were his politics? Did he have any? Given that Orwell was writing in an era where socialist ideals, and Dickens wrote in an era when labour reform had already begun – could Dickens have been a socialist ? Orwell doesn’t think so

The truth is that Dickens’s criticism of society is almost exclusively moral. Hence the utter lack of any constructive suggestion anywhere in his work. He attacks the law, parliamentary government, the educational system and so forth, without ever clearly suggesting what he would put in their places. Of course it is not necessarily the business of a novelist, or a satirist, to make constructive suggestions, but the point is that Dickens’s attitude is at bottom not even destructive. There is no clear sign that he wants the existing order to be overthrown, or that he believes it would make very much difference if it were overthrown. For in reality his target is not so much society as “human nature.” It would be difficult to point anywhere in his books to a passage suggesting that the economic system is wrong as a sytem. Nowhere, for instance, does he make any attack on private enterprise or private property. Even in a book like Our Mutual Friend, which turns on the power of corpses to interfere with living people by means of idiotic wills, it does not occur to him to suggest that individuals ought not to have this irresponsible power.

However, it was an era when the slightest criticism of the class structure was seen as being pro-socialist. So much so that Macaulay refused to review a book by Dickens. (yes, the very same Macaulay)

 “It is said that Macaulay refused to review Hard Times because he disapproved of its “sullen Socialism.” Obviously Macaulay is here using the word “Socialism” in the same sense in which, twenty years ago, a vegetarian meal or a Cubist picture used to be referred to as “Bolshevism.” There is not a line in the book that can properly be called Socialistic; indeed, its tendency if anything is pro-capitalist, because its whole moral is that capitalists ought to be kind, not that workers ought to be rebellious, ”

Dickens, was not a revolutionary. rather, he believed in the innate goodness of people and their ability to do the right thing.

“It seems that in every attack Dickens makes upon society he is always pointing to a change of spirit rather than a change of structure. It is hopeless to try and pin him down to any definite remedy, still more to any political doctrine. His approach is always along the moral plane, and his attitude is sufficiently summed up in that remark about Strong’s school being as different from Creakle’s “as good is from evil.” Two things can be very much alike and yet abysmally different. Heaven and Hell are in the same place. Useless to change institutions without a “change of heart”—that, essentially, is what he is always saying”

For Orwell, the clash between those who want to change society inside out, and those who believe in gradual change through the changing of individual minds, is  like an ongoing fight. Unlike Hegel’s dialectic this one is rather more violent

“Progress is not an illusion, it happens, but it is slow and invariably disappointing. There is always a new tyrant waiting to take over from the old—generally not quite so bad, but still a tyrant. Consequently two viewpoints are always tenable. The one, how can you improve human nature until you have changed the system? The other, what is the use of changing the system before you have improved human nature? They appeal to different individuals, and they probably show a tendency to alternate in point of time. The moralist and the revolutionary are constantly undermining one another. Marx exploded a hundred tons of dynamite beneath the moralist position, and we are still living in the echo of that tremendous crash. But already, somewhere or other, the sappers are at work and fresh dynamite is being tamped in place to blow Marx at the moon. Then Marx, or somebody like him, will come back with yet more dynamite, and so the process continues, to an end we cannot yet foresee.

Once again, as in his essay on his rather brutal boarding school, Orwell makes some biting observations about the irresponsible rich of that era

“What now strikes us as remarkable about the new moneyed class of the nineteenth century is their complete irresponsibility; they see everything in terms of individual success, with hardly any consciousness that the community exists”

And, finally on Dickens’ writing

“I have been discussing Dickens simply in terms of his “message,” and almost ignoring his literary qualities. But every writer, especially every novelist, has a “message,” whether he admits it or not, and the minutest details of his work are influenced by it. All art is propaganda. Neither Dickens himself nor the majority of Victorian novelists would have thought of denying this. On the other hand, not all propaganda is art. ……D. H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was “a gigantic dwarf,” and in a sense the same is true of Dickens. There are whole worlds which he either knows nothing about or does not wish to mention. Except in a rather roundabout way, one cannot learn very much from Dickens. And to say this is to think almost immediately of the great Russian novelists of the nineteenth century. Why is it that Tolstoy’s grasp seems to be so much larger than Dickens’s—why is it that he seems able to tell you so much more about yourself? It is not that he is more gifted, or even, in the last analysis, more intelligent. It is because he is writing about people who are growing. His characters are struggling to make their souls, whereas Dickens’s are already finished and perfect……In my own mind Dickens’s people are present far more often and far more vividly than Tolstoy’s, but always in a single unchangeable attitude, like pictures or pieces of furniture. You cannot hold an imaginary conversation with a Dickens character as you can with, say, Pierre Bezoukhov. And this is not merely because of Tolstoy’s greater seriousness, for there are also comic characters that you can imagine yourself talking to—Bloom, for instance, or Pécuchet, or even Wells’s Mr. Polly. It is because Dickens’s characters have no mental life.

And, finally on what Dickens was going to be remembered for – the ability to voice that sense of outrage, at injustice that leads to the idea of freedom and equality being curtailed. Orwell believes that it is because

 since the French Revolution, the Western world has been haunted by the idea of freedom and equality; it is only an idea, but it has penetrated to all ranks of society. The most atrocious injustices, cruelties, lies, snobberies exist everywhere, but there are not many people who can regard these things with the same indifference as, say, a Roman slaveowner. Even the millionaire suffers from a vague sense of guilt, like a dog eating a stolen leg of mutton. Nearly everyone, whatever his actual conduct may be, responds emotionally to the idea of human brotherhood. Dickens voiced a code which was and on the whole still is believed in, even by people who violate it. It is difficult otherwise to explain why he could be both read by working people (a thing that has happened to no other novelist of his stature) and buried in Westminster Abbey.

 Worth buying the book

George Orwell - A Collection of Essays

George Orwell – A Collection of Essays