What’s the right length for a video scene?

Making a video that grabs — and keeps — your viewers’ attention is challenging. There’s a lot that goes into creating a compelling video, and believe it or not, scene length is right up there near the top of the list.

Use scenes that are too long, and your audience drifts off. Scenes that are too short make it difficult for people to understand and retain your message.

Clear as mud, right? Actually, if you stick to a few tried and true parameters, choosing the right length for your video scenes is pretty straightforward.

Pro Tip: Ready to get wordy? Check out our ultimate reference guide to video word count.

Key takeaways

  • Keep scenes between one and six seconds.
  • Give viewers enough time to register everything that’s going on (text and action)
  • For fun, upbeat videos, stick closer to one-second scenes
  • For complex information or a contemplative mood, skew closer to six-second scenes

The science of why scene length matters

It’s a commonly touted statistic that the average attention span has been trimmed to just eight seconds. This guides a whole lot of marketing strategies. But the eight-second attention span is more myth than fact.

The original number comes from a Microsoft study published in 2015. The problem is that the study doesn’t prove (or even attempt to prove) an eight-second attention span. But it does reinforce something else brain scientists have long known about human attention.

The short story is that humans have four different types of attention: sustained, selective, alternating, and divided. In the digital age, we use alternating and divided attention more often than the other two. Things like frequent social media usage further amplify how much we use these two types of attention.

It’s not that modern humans have an eight-second attention span. It’s just that we’re programmed to adapt; our brains naturally become more efficient at the things we do most often. So we’re collectively getting better at short, intense bursts of attention.

What this means for video scenes

This is actually good news because it means that people can watch videos that are longer overall — internal corporate communications, HR policies, training and onboarding videos, and so on — as long as you time your scenes in a way that leverages people’s proclivity for short periods of intense focus.

That’s how social media holds attention: it presents quick tidbits of information at a pace that enables users to focus for a brief period then alternate their attention by scrolling to a new bit of information.

You’ll use a similar strategy when you design your video scenes.

Finding the perfect length for your scene

When we talk about the perfect scene length, what we’re really saying is, “How can I keep my viewers’ attention long enough to give them the information they need?”

There’s no single length that will work for every scene. Instead, your content will inform the length of every scene in your video. Before creating any scene, you should ask yourself the same two questions you (hopefully) asked when you planned your video as a whole:

1. What do my viewers need to know?

2. How can I cover this topic in the most concise and useful way?

You need to give viewers just enough time to absorb all the information in any given scene. Once that happens, your job is to jump to the next scene before viewers start to feel like they’re waiting around for you to move on.

How long is long enough?

A good scene length is between one and six seconds.

According to Ben Stephenson, head video template expert here at Biteable, “Anything longer than this starts to drag and feel more like a PowerPoint presentation.”

You want to make your scenes as short as possible so your video feels snappy. This might mean paring down your text or breaking longer scenes up into two or more to keep things short.

That being said, there’s still quite a bit of difference between one second and six seconds. Keep these factors in mind as you pace your scenes.

Video topic matters

If you’re dealing with a more complex topic, like a new company policy or an employee training, you can skew your scenes closer to six seconds. A video like this is more complex and contemplative and you have a lot of information to communicate.

If you’re making a short, fun video — think marketing videos (or in the HR space, a quick kudos video to build positive employee relations — try to trim your scenes toward the one-second mark.

Scene length conveys mood

Bear in mind that the length of your scenes can affect the mood of your video. If your video is fun and has an upbeat soundtrack, you should make your scenes just long enough for someone to register the text and what’s going on. This keeps the mood snappy and vibrant.

But if you’re making a more sensitive and contemplative video, you’ll want to linger longer on each scene to give the ideas time to resonate.

Here’s an example of a video made with Biteable that uses lots of fast scenes to create an upbeat, snappy mood:

On the other hand, here’s an example of a more contemplative video with longer scenes:

Give people time to absorb everything — text and action

If there’s animation or footage in a scene, you’ll need to give an extra second or two for people to comprehend what’s happening.

Also, larger text takes more time to read because the viewer’s eye has to travel further to cover it. The same goes for multiple text boxes in different places on the screen.

Use this test for on-screen text: if you can read the text of the scene out loud at a normal conversational pace, it’s a safe bet that even the slowest readers will be able to keep up.

Our guide to video word counts covers this idea in greater detail.

Finish what you start

It also feels more satisfying if actions are completed. If a character is walking off the screen, let them walk off completely rather than cutting to the next scene before the character finishes their exit.

See how this animated video template only transitions scenes once the on-screen animations are complete or between repetitions for animations that loop:

Subconsciously, we don’t like to be left with unfinished business, even if it’s something as simple as an animated character stuck in limbo half on, half off the screen. Do yourself a favor and finish what you start. Your audience will appreciate you for it, even if they don’t consciously realize why.

Get your scenes just right with templates

Getting the length of your scenes just right is more of an art than a science. That’s why there’s no exact number for how long a scene should be. But, if you plan your videos so that you present the information in each scene clearly and concisely, you’ll be just fine.

If you still feel like scene length is too much of a catch-22, Biteable has templates designed by video experts who are masters of getting every scene just right. Biteable templates take all the technical details off your plate, so you can focus on getting your message just right.

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