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Why we love to binge – the power of video series, playlists and episodic content

Hannah Brinkman , , 14 May 2019

The unstoppable rise of video content online has been well documented: Cisco forecasts video will comprise 82% of all internet traffic by 2022. But there’s been less analysis of the different kinds of video that are mingling in this flood of content. And in particular, the role of series.

Episodes, playlists and series are all part of a trend in which online video viewers are coming back for more of what they like. We recently presented at the Charity Comms Video for Charities conference, and had the opportunity to look more closely at the recent surge in sequential content (check out the deck above, including our 7-step guide to making your own video series).

We rounded up examples of series content from the charity sector, including work from our clients English Heritage and Battersea, and led a workshop where attendees brainstormed their own series ideas – generating some fantastic concepts we hope to see on our social feeds soon.

Why are video series popular?

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of making a series, we asked ourselves why episodic content is so popular. In recent years a TV box set boom has fuelled the growth of Netflix, HBO and BBC iPlayer, and we’ve become used to the concept of ‘binge-watching’ everything from Game of Thrones to Blue Planet.

The same principle is at play in content marketing. From commercial brands to charities, organisations are finding that organising their video into series has a host of benefits. One-off ‘big splash’ campaigns may be the way to get a key message across – a product launch or fundraising appeal, for example. But series content is a chance to explore topics in more depth and build genuine rapport with an audience.

Of course, the idea of a series isn’t new – we’ve been watching them since the dawn of TV – but the streaming era has made it possible to watch several episodes (or even a whole series) at once, creating a different relationship between content producers and audiences.

And audiences love series content. After all, a story that plays out over a number of episodes appeals to many aspects of basic human psychology. There’s our love of the familiar (the so-called Mere-Exposure effect), our hardwired empathy for people we relate to (whether a favourite fictional character or a charismatic presenter), and our innate desire to finish a task. (List-tickers take note: you are living proof of the Osviankina Effect.)

Successful series draw us in, forge emotional connections, and encourage us to stick with them to the end. In a world where we’re all competing for attention, no wonder they’re an appealing format for content producers.

YouTube, Facebook, IGTV: channels for video series

Binge-watching may be associated with streaming TV, but series-based content also forms a huge and fast-growing part of online video viewing. Much of YouTube’s phenomenal growth has been based on highly formatted, regularly scheduled content from both individual YouTubers and content channels. YouTube actually advises content-makers how to keep channels fresh on its Creators Academy:

To stay in the forefront of viewers’ minds, many creators have found that setting a routine publishing schedule helps viewers to know when to expect their next release – it’s like anticipating the next episode of your favourite show.

And it’s not just YouTube. The launches of Instagram TV and Facebook Watch have brought the same content-on-demand experience to the world’s biggest social channels, and both are actively encouraging regularly scheduled content. As Instagram’s Ashley Yuki put it:

Unlike one-off videos that may not be representative of a channel’s content, a single episode of a series can encapsulate for viewers what to expect from a channel.

How to make a video series

With all these platforms encouraging episodic content, and providing the tools and playlists to better organise them, series look set to play an ever-bigger part in our media diet. Making one for your own organisation doesn’t require a Game of Thrones-style budget, but it does require a strong theme and a commitment to explore a topic over a number of weeks or months.

In our Charity Comms deck (at the top of this post), we outlined a 7-step process for conceiving, executing and delivering a successful online video series. Our thought process runs like this:

  1. Objective – when is a series the right option?
  2. Budget – do I need a big budget to make a series?
  3. Theme – what’s your overall story?
  4. Format – what shape will your series take?
  5. Audience – what do your audience care about?
  6. Creative approach – how will your series look, feel and sound?
  7. Distribution – where and how will people watch your series?

There are more details about each step in the deck, to help you start thinking about how this could work in your own organisation. And of course, if you’d like more ideas and support in executing a video series that really engages your audience, just get in touch.

Case Studies

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