Formats jumpstart stories
Repeatable, predictable content formats can make Hub content friendlier for your viewers, your creative and production teams, and your budget.
Why use content formats
Your favorite TV show probably follows a pretty dependable format: you don’t know what will happen, but you generally know the bad guys will meet justice, and a spaceship won’t show up in the middle of a period drama.
There are qualitative and quantitative differences between a police crime drama and a soap opera. A lot of cognitive work gets done when someone recommends a new sitcom; if you don’t normally enjoy half-hour comedies, you’re not the target audience for one.
No matter where you’re from or how old you are, you can probably name some YouTube genres: "haul videos", "fail videos", "unboxings", "reaction videos", "challenges", and "bad lip readings" are only a handful. There are over 50,000 “Draw My Life” videos, with over a billion views, on hundreds of channels.
Most successful YouTube channels succeed because they repeat one successful format again and again. In 2014, only 88 channels worldwide reached 500,000 subscribers in their first year; 97% of those were repeating or riffing on existing formats.
Formats frequently introduce interactivity into video-watching. Three of the top channels on YouTube (The Fine Brothers’ React Series, Epic Rap Battle, and Honest Movie Trailers), are steered by viewers who suggest what topic should be featured, and receive on-screen credit if their ideas are used. These three series amassed a combined 2 billion views in 2014.
Benefits to viewers
- Formats help set expectations.
- Consistent style, length, or pacing can make your message feel familiar.
- Formats transform audiences into communities.
Benefits to content producers
- Formats streamline production, starting at the concept phase.
- Formats save time and money by reducing creative choices.
- Formats ensure consistent creative voice.
- Formats help content stand out.
- Formats allow for more strategic content distribution planning.
Kids react to the first iPodTake note of the title screen, in which three viewers are prominently credited with asking the Fine Brothers to feature the first-generation iPod in a Kids React video.
WHO WON? WHO’S NEXT?Viewers are challenged to answer those two questions at the end of each installment of Epic Rap Battles, which uses music videos as a vehicle for education. Every episode is driven by viewer suggestions; viewers are credited at the end of the video which could contribute to higher audience retention.
What makes formats succeed
There are hundreds of different formats, any of which could work well for your message. So, how do you decide? Do you just borrow someone’s existing format, or try to develop one on your own?
Ask yourself these five questions to help narrow the possibilities:
- Does this format help my message stand out? You are competing with every other video on YouTube. So, choose a format that highlights what makes your concept or message unique.
- Does this format provide value to viewers? To make your target audience want to watch your content, it needs to add something tangible and beneficial to their life. Your goal should be “teach someone something,” or “help someone feel something,” rather than “sell someone something.”
- Will choosing this format make people more likely to share, or talk about, your video?
- Can working within this format help you hit production and cost targets on a regular release schedule?
- Does this format connect well with the audience you want to reach? Will framing your message in this format increase watch time, subscribers, or brand love?
And then consider: if you didn’t have the framework of a format to guide your process, you’d be asking way more than five questions right now!
Leverage scalable formats to produce and release a lot of content quickly and consistently to leave a lasting impression. Don’t forget to experiment; it’s hard to find the perfect format! As the YouTube platform evolves, it’s never been more important to test new ways to tell your brand’s story. Exciting new technologies like 360-degree video and virtual reality could change how you get your fans to come back for more.