Commercial Radio consultant Tracy Johnson on Short Attention Spans:
… in 2000, the average adult’s attention span was 12 seconds. It has dropped by 33% since then, to 8 seconds. That’s shorter than the attention span of a goldfish:
That means at most, you have less than the first eight seconds to engage listeners in your content.
At the eight second mark, they make a decision. Stay or flee. Tune in or tune out.
Bob Lefsetz on Why John Oliver is so good:
2. He’s not afraid to go long.
If I hear one more pundit say we live in a short attention span economy!
The truth is even though we’re beaten over the head with facts and people wanting our attention we truly want to go deep.
The same way a one night stand is not as satisfying as a relationship, we want more.
**When someone tells you to make it shorter think if you can make it better. If you can’t, then length is not an issue.**
I respect the views of both these men – and always look forward to their content.
So let’s consider this…
Serial is a single true crime story told over multiple weeks (episodic TV style) where episodes range in length from 28 minutes to 53 minutes long with no breaks.
It’s a bit like Dateline Investigation – but as a Radio show delivered over multiple weeks on the internet with the storytelling skills and aesthetic of This American Life.
Yes – the hottest “Radio” show right now takes longer to explain than the “average adult’s attention span”.
And yet, it’s getting about a million downloads per episode.
Check out what comedian Patton Oswalt said about it last month:
Noticeably absent from Patton’s description is the word “Radio” – even thought that is exactly what Serial is.
Patton’s observation proves to me that Audio content historically called “Radio” can transcend the medium altogether and be considered on par with great Television, Novels, and Film.
That is the real “Power of Audio!”
As someone far more interested in the Message of Audio than the Medium of Radio – I find this incredibly inspiring!
MAKE IT SHORT -VS- MAKE IT BETTER
To be fair – Tracy Johnson is not advocating “Shortness” at the expense of quality. In fact – he has an excellent post where he accurately describes that Tight and Short are not interchangeable.
Obviously (at least to me) Commercial Radio and a podcast like Serial are not even really playing the same sport – so it’s a bit unfair to pit them against each other.
Serial was meticulously crafted over a long period of time and will stand up to repeat listens over potentially many years. Conversely, the average Commercial Radio “personality” break was most likely concocted in mere minutes, if not right on the spot; the life span of which won’t be much longer than the time it takes to hear it.
Still – I couldn’t help but hold Bob and Tracy’s seemingly opposing pieces of advice regarding Attention Span in my mind as I was being whisked away by another 40 minute episode of Serial.
Serial is undoubtedly well planned, well crafted storytelling that does hook you early – but not in 8 seconds. No, it demands a little more. Actually – it demands a lot more.
And that makes me wonder – are Commercial Broadcasters aiming too low? Here’s one of my favorite smart people – Seth Godin:
Once-great media brands that now traffic in cheesecake and quick clicks didn’t get there by mistake.
As the bottom gets more and more crowded, it’s harder than ever to be more short-sighted than everyone else.
If you’re going to need to work that hard at it, might as well put the effort into racing to the top instead…
WHO ARE YOU TRYING TO HOOK?
Trying to grab a slice of the passive, un-engaged, low-attention span masses is no easy task.
Moving forward – I wonder if targeting this group with ever more pithy “content” will produce the kind of returns both the content creators and sponsors of that content expect?
We are already seeing diminishing returns here – and ever more ridiculous tactics being employed to extract every last bit of cash from the dwindling attention pool of the un-engaged.
Conversely – creating content so amazingly good and deep that people actively spread the word about it is no easy task either!
No matter how awesome Serial is – no matter how engaged the audience – no matter how loud the buzz – I can’t help but wonder how it was monetized? It took hundreds, maybe even thousands of work hours to produce!
One thing I do know – it was easy to remember that MailChimp sponsored this first round. And I along with millions of others are anxiously awaiting the next episode of Serial.
Do you think that’s monetizable?
MESSAGE OUTLIVES MEDIUM
Having spent over 20 years in Commercial Radio and absorbed all it’s lessons about Short Attention Spans – it’s refreshing and exciting for me to see how vibrant, diverse and engaged the audiences are for Audio Content beyond what Commercial Radio thinks is possible to deliver.
I don’t know if Borrell’s predicted demise of half AM/FM Radio stations in 10 years will come true – but now we all know this: great Audio Content won’t care.
Serial: Episode 01: The Alibi
BUZZ ON SERIAL:
(compiled by The Verge)
The Vulture 5 Reasons Everyone’s Obsessed with “Serial”
The New Yorker’s Sarah Larson about the making of Serial.
New York Magazine’s Kevin Roose on Serial and the podcast renaissance.
The Vulture interview where Sarah Koenig says she doesn’t know how it will end.
NPR’s Linda Holmes on Serial’s up-in-the-air ending.
Nieman on storytelling and structure.
The economics of advertising on podcasts, which you can think about as you listen to that girl fail to pronounce “mail chimp” again and again.
And a DailyDot writeup of some of the theories on it.
Slate has a Spoiler Special podcast about the show, if you want listen to a podcast about a podcast.
Serial’s own website is full of interactive maps, timelines, and photographs of pieces of evidence discussed in the show.
Split The Moon is the blog of Rabia Chaudry, the lawyer who brought Adnan’s case to Sarah Koenig’s attention.
Header Imaging Above : Mashable Composite, Serial