As short-form video app TikTok continues to dominate, it’s not uncommon to hear people decry the apparent destruction of the attention span. And from the emergence of TikTok copycats like Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts, the tech giants are actually banking on it.
But for creators like Quinton Hoover, who has amassed nearly 750,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel Quinton Reviews, the story is not that simple. Because when he hit “post” on his latest video – a goliath, eight-hour spoken essay dissecting the final two seasons of long-since cancelled Nickelodeon sitcom Victorious – he knew millions of people were going to watch and enjoy every minute of it.
“I often see viral posts of people just discussing at first the ridiculousness of this [video] existing – and then actually getting into it,” he says.
Hoover is in the middle of a wildly popular longform series reexamining the cultural phenomenon that was Nickelodeon’s sitcom cinematic universe. Starting with iCarly in June last year, the four videos published have collectively accrued 17m views with a total run time of nearly 22 hours – every minute filled with Hoover’s scripted analytical commentary.
“There’s a certain ‘meme’ quality to them … there’s something quite funny about a Victorious video that’s five hours,” he says. He played into that in his second Victorious release, recording a 20-minute extra segment just to get it over the eight-hour mark – to “really piss people off,” he laughs.
But instead of pissing people off, these videos have propelled the 25-year-old to new heights of popularity.
“It feels like they’re taking part in an experience by watching my content, in a way that I just don’t think I got that out of [my] 20-minute videos,” he says
My therapist: The eight-hour Victorious video isn't real, it can't hurt you.
The eight-hour Victorious video: pic.twitter.com/e5xy4EW9fB
— Laura Crone (@downwithlcc) March 13, 2022
Why not. Why shouldn't I watch the 8-hour long video talking about the Nickelodeon show Victorious. pic.twitter.com/edjMykaGp1
— Nipah 🐣 (@NipahDUBS) March 8, 2022
Hoover isn’t an outlier; in recent years, ultra-long video essays have exploded in popularity on YouTube.
There’s a two-and-a-half-hour look at the 2010’s supernatural teen drama The Vampire Diaries (9.3m views); an hour and 45 minute-long discussion about the sociopolitical roots of Envy (4.6m views); and a three-and-a-half-hour review of a Zelda video game (7.3m views).
“This idea that our attention spans have completely been eroded is not totally true,” says Ashley Chang, a culture and trends manager at YouTube. “Clearly, this is high-value content to their audience, which is kind of surprising and wonderful, I think.
“I also think it’s interesting that – as you see in the comments – a lot of people aren’t even familiar with the source material. So, to me, also, a part of this phenomenon is the charisma of the creator – people just like spending time with them.”
Chang cites, as an example, Mike’s Mic: an Australian creator who unpacks the TV show Pretty Little Liars across a series of three movie-length videos.
Mike’s Mic – real name Michael Messineo – said he decided to go long-form when he began to burn out posting 10-20 minute videos each week.
“It was getting to the point where, for me, it started to feel a little bit repetitive,” he says.
“But Pretty Little Liars is one of the things that I’m hyper-fixated on. Like, till I die, I will be obsessed. So I thought, ‘OK, it’d be super fun to spend a lot of time and make this series.”
Conscious of the cultural trend towards short-form content, Messineo attempted to cut his first video down – but eventually resigned himself to a nearly two-hour-long final cut. “People seemed to respond really well to it,” he says. Titled “An appropriately unhinged recap of Pretty Little Liars (part 1)“, it ended up getting close to 5m views. “And then the second one was even bigger.”
‘This huge rabbit hole has consumed two years of my life’
If it works, it can pay off: higher-value ads placed in long-form videos generally make up for the income that’s lost from not uploading weekly. But they aren’t an easy win for the creators – especially those like Messineo, who use YouTube as their primary source of income.
“[The first video] took about two months, and in that two months, I wasn’t uploading anything … I essentially wasn’t really making money at all,” he says. “And with YouTube, if you spend two months on something and then it doesn’t pay off, then it’s like, you’re done.”
Hoover’s reviews of shows like iCarly and Victorious take hundreds if not thousands of hours to produce, he says – or between four and seven months, with him sometimes working every day.
And his audience keeps wanting more – a 10-hour one, an 18-hour one.
“It’s great but it’s gotten to the point where … I have to make time for myself, even though that used to be the thing I was trying to get away from.”
So why are people so willing to dedicate hours of their time, across multiple days, to watch videos filmed from someone’s bedroom?
Perhaps with short-form video apps satisfying people’s itch for immediate entertainment, YouTube has started to fill a different place in people’s lives – whether as a music service, a source of atmospheric background noise, or, in the case of the labour intensive video essay, a replacement for traditional TV programming. It has analogies to video game streaming platform Twitch, where people will regularly tune in for hours on end to watch someone else play.
While Chang was hesitant to link the trend directly to the rise of TikTok, he agreed something new was happening.
“This kind of content tends to over-index on larger screens [such as a] connected television. That tells me that people are watching this kind of content in much the same way that they would watch a movie or a TV show,” he says.
“I think we’re beginning to see what feature-length content on YouTube could be, and to me, it’s really exciting.”
Hoover shares the sentiment.
“This whole thing ended up being this huge rabbit hole which has consumed two years of my life, and yet has coincidentally been the most successful thing I guess I’ve ever done.
“I’m terrified to see where it will lead next.”