I mentioned last week that I’d pitched the show to the Escapist. Alas, it didn’t work out. It’s cool. The only regret I have is that it delayed the start of our Mass Effect series. It was actually a very educational look into the workings of video on the web. I’m happy.
But during the application process I had to look at how the show is doing compared to my other work. In terms of time spent vs. people entertained, it’s not doing all that well. Introspective navel-gazing follows:
We’re talking about the show again and discussing our frustrations. Josh has his hands on Adobe Premiere, which is letting him do things he simply couldn’t dream of before. (Aside from not crashing every five minutes.)
It’s become clear that one of the problems with our show is the length. We aim for half-hour episodes, and often we run to 40 minutes. Escapist aside, video hosts simply do not like long shows. Many have explicit length limits. (Like YouTube, which recently raised their limit to 15 minutes.) Others have softer limits based on filesize, which allows us to do half hour shows at the expense of video quality. Viddler lets us do it, but every episode comes with reports from viewers who had the episode cut off for them. Also their encode system often chokes on our stuff, which ends up eating a lot of Josh’s time.
The length of the show has been a problem from the start. Our first episode had over 3,000 viewers, and the most common complaint was “Nice, but I don’t have time to watch this.” We have about half that many viewers now and nothing seems to be able to change that. Among all my projects this one has the shortest reach, despite the fact that it’s video with a steady update schedule and popular subject matter. It’s usually easier to get people to watch video than to read a 989 word blog post. This should be a slam-dunk, audience-wise, and yet I think I’d have to say our show has a “cult” following. Given the time and energy going into the show and the easy access we have to a large audience, this show is not doing as well as it should. I like it. You like it. But that’s as far as it goes. None of our shows have really gone viral or been spread around outside of this site. I’m worried that the show is riding the coattails of my other work here instead of standing out on its own.
This lack of growth is especially troublesome given how much talent we’ve got. Even my least popular video from Reset Button is more than ten times as popular as the average episode of Spoiler Warning. Josh, Mumbles, and Rutskarn are all writers in one way or another. We’ve got a good range of ages, diverse gaming backgrounds (aside from our lack of consoles) and four distinct voices. We don’t quite have a professional shine, but in terms of editing we’re light years ahead of most web shows, even ones with far larger audiences. On top of that, Rutskarn has his own audience apart from anything I do here, and he brings them to the table as well. I’m not expecting that we should be some viral sensation, but right now there are an awful lot of folks who have this show staring them in the face twice a week and have no desire to even look at it. And of those that do, few share it. No, I’m not asking people to start spamming the world with Spoiler Warning links. If we were reaching our potential, you’d be doing that already.
Which is a long way of saying that I know some people will rage at pretty much any change we make to the format, but I think we can do better than we’re doing now. It’s probably good that The Escapist rejected the show. If we altered the show after being accepted, then everyone would blame them for “ruining” the show and “forcing” these changes on us.
Nothing is final, but we’ve been kicking around a few ideas. I think chopping the show down to the standard web-length of five minutes would be disastrous. But fifteen minutes might work. If we did a fifteen minute show every day of the week, we’d actually deliver an extra fifteen minutes of content a week. This would get us through games more quickly and give us a better shot at doing a few of the more esoteric games we’ve talked about. More people might be willing to watch if they could do so at 15 minute intervals instead of 30. And the show might spread more easily if it was hosted on YouTube. And we’d be able to have the show available in HD. And I think everyone would prefer it if Rutskarn participated by singing opera-style through the entire show.
The shorter encode times would make it less daunting for Josh to make custom credits for each episode, which were a popular but time-consuming feature. (And as I just learned recently, getting people to watch to the very end is an important virtue for a video. Those jokes at the end of every Zero Punctuation? Yeah. I don’t think those are an accident.)
I don’t know why I talk so much about the show here. Actually, I do. I’m dissatisfied with the show, and that means there are problems. Like with my videogame reviews, I think it’s more interesting to talk about problems that need solutions than to discuss stuff that just works. I don’t agonize over my essays or weekly column, because (aside from occasional bouts of writer’s block) those things just work. If I felt like Spoiler Warning was running as it should, you’d see more episodes and less of this insufferable Cloud Strife styled self-doubt.
Anyway, the plan is to launch the show on Tuesday.
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