November 2019 wasn’t “last year.” It’s hard to shake off the feeling of a year-and-a-half-plus lost, but here we are. One thing that has most certainly evolved over these uncertain times is society’s relationship, both personally and professionally, with new media technology. As we head into 2022, we have to acknowledge the shifting media landscape to stay ahead of the curve. Starting with the smartphone.
Not the invention thereof — we all know what a smartphone is. More like accepting that teens and twenty-somethings aren’t the only culprits of excessive screen time tallies. Just as communication sits in our pockets and not cords anchored to our kitchen walls, so do media and entertainment; ignoring that simple fact would be fatal to new business in the new-20’s. Most audiences hungry for programming reach to streaming, not satellite, and streaming takes the advantage of reaching digitally native viewers anywhere. This means accommodating content, not just for fans on the go, but for the tools they use to watch said content. I’m talking about a) their shrinking attention spans and b) their narrowing aspect ratios. Innovation doesn’t have to belong to freshly-founded media companies by default; larger corporations have and should continue to take notice of their audiences’ new “homes”.
PBS did just that during the pandemic, turning to social media platforms and YouTube to produce effective, informational programming and shorts for kids. “Shorts” is key, as the webisodes are typically no more than a few minutes long, but proved effective during a period of heightened isolation, like the pandemic. Hero4Hire Creative collaborated with PBS and Sesame Workshop on just such content, accepting that kids gravitated more toward tablets and smartphones than the latest 8K television.
Where the digital short ruled the space in 2020-21 and will continue its reign in 2022, so did the “new” 9:16 vertical film ratio that confused creators and marketers alike pre-pandemic. Since the invention of the camera phone, there’s been a perception that photos/videos shot vertically were inherently unprofessional vs. users who tilted their phones 90 degrees to make viewing on a larger screen easier. Snapchat and Instagram really paved the way for alternative aspect ratios being deemed worthy of development by content creators, but nothing prepared marketers for TikTok.
What we were sure would fall out of vogue for content creation reared its head with a new app and millions of eyes worldwide. TikTok set a precedent for young people to expect this video format, which other content creation companies — for ads or film — can mimic to reach the same sets of eyes. In the spirit of the season, we converted a former holiday card into the 9:16 microshort film “Carol Never Yells,” accepted to the app Rizzle’s inaugural Like It Film Fest. We also noticed its view counts explode after presenting it in 9:16. As Millennials strayed from their appointment TV-viewing parents onto YouTube and binge-able streamers, Gen Z-ers took their TikTok mentality to other apps with the same expectations for high-quality native programming. Those who follow suit will come out on top. (For the same reason, this year’s holiday cards were animated and released in 9:16, 16:9, and 1:1 aspects).
Turns out, TikTok also trained young (and increasingly older) minds to expect microshort-form content. Ads have been this short for a long time, but forward-thinking brands could adopt the time frame of a TikTok (with the transparency of their mission) to craft entertainment with a hyper-short limitation. Over time, particularly in my field of animation, this would save costs and gain extrapolated views because audiences can actually digest the entire work. This opens doors to branded content, media channels, creator collaborations, transmedia integrations with blockbuster franchises, and beyond. Microshorts, coupled with device-driven entertainment consumption, present an open frontier.
Jordan Beck is an award-winning filmmaker, performer, and creative executive with 15 years in the entertainment industry. He is head of development for Emmy-nominated animation studio Hero4Hire Creative, shepherding the company’s slate of original children’s film and television programming alongside its pipeline of award-winning 2D, motion design, and mixed media production services.