Due to the numerous possibilities for uploading and watching films on the internet, the number of short films released on online platforms continues to soar. That is hardly surprising as the short film has long been considered a particularly suitable format for circulation via the internet. Once a short film becomes available online it can be played at any time on any terminal / device with an internet connection.
The greatest amount of short films currently available on the internet is presented on YouTube. Virtually all videos can be uploaded to YouTube and shared via the World Wide Web. Challenging short films however, play a relatively small role in proportion to the total quantity. Alongside video-sharing platforms there are various other options to further the circulation of short films on the internet including filmmakers’ websites, online archives and editorially-managed short film platforms.
But what does user behaviour regarding the reception of short films on the internet look like? In order to gain an overview, an online survey was conducted in 2015 among short film consumers in German-speaking countries as part of a master thesis*. Results showed that a total of 75 participants interested in short film took part, 48 of who were filmmakers themselves. The majority of non-filmmaker participants work in a different creative field.
Of all participants, 31% of those polled stated that they watch short films 1-4 times a month. 29% stated on the other hand, that they only watch short films a few times a year, while 28% watch short films several times a week. The smallest group (12%) watched short films on a daily basis.
The following survey results offer an insight into which online platforms and terminals / devices are predominantly used for the reception of short films on the internet; which payment models are most popular with users; and what kind of supplementary information is particularly desired in addition to the films.
Use of different forms of reception
88% of those surveyed stated that they mostly watch short films online. 37% see short films largely at festivals, while 17% usually watch them on television. Only 15% of those interested in short films actually watch short films at the cinema. Not least of which is due to the fact that short film is hardly represented at German cinemas. In earlier times, the short film used to be shown at scores of cinemas as the opening film, but has since become superseded by advertising and can now only be found at selected arthouse cinemas. The reason for this, claim cinema operators, is due to their advertising contracts: the timeframe in which a short film might be shown before a feature is currently minimal or nonexistent. However, this has changed slightly in recent years due to new funding initiatives. The German Federal Film Board (FFA) awards grants to cinemas for showing short films. Since 2014, this amounts to up to 2000 euros a year.
Equally, the percentage of those interested in short film who choose to watch them on television is relatively low at 17%.The cause for this is similar to the problem which faces cinema screenings of shorts: On television, the short film is relegated to the fringes. Rare exceptions, such as ARTE’s “Kurzschluss Magazin” or thematic short film programs on German regional television are given unpopular broadcasting time slots. In contrast however, short films on the internet are accessible to short film enthusiasts at any time, which is why, despite the vastly incalculable mass of films on offer, the internet is a readily used source for watching shorts.
Usage of terminals / devices
Of the survey participants who claimed to watch short films principally via the internet, the majority claimed to use either a desktop PC (64%) or a laptop (61%). Almost a third of all surveyed short film enthusiasts (31%) use a television. Smartphones (28 %) and tablets (25 %) are used least of all for the consumption of shorts on the internet. Yet several years ago experts anticipated that mobile devices would be increasingly used to watch short films, particularly during waiting times, such as on train trips for example. However, most of those surveyed (76%) claimed to have never watched a short film during a waiting period. Nevertheless, more than half of these (54%) could imagine that they might indeed watch short films during waiting periods in the future.
Use of streaming and download options
Films can be made accessible to the public via the internet on video-sharing platforms, virtual galleries and digital archives, right up to online video stores and private websites. The films are either available as a download or video stream. The majority of surveyed participants (79%) mostly take advantage of the streaming option to watch short films; while a mere 4% choose to make use of the download alternative. Even the surveyed filmmakers stated that they usually make their short films available via a streaming service.
Most frequently used online platforms
Despite the extensive online range proffered by diverse short film platforms, most short film enthusiasts still make use of the two major video-sharing platforms, YouTube and Vimeo. Survey results showed that most participants preferred to watch short films on YouTube (87%) with Vimeo coming in at second place (79%). Measured against the total amount of all videos shown on each channel, the percentage of short films with artistic value is lower on YouTube than on Vimeo. This is due to the focus of the Vimeo platform, in that it primarily addresses filmmakers and is also readily used by filmmakers for the presentation of their work. At the same time, due to its higher proportion of qualitatively superior films, Vimeo is increasingly used by film industry representatives to find new talent. Therefore, the number of clicks a filmmaker receives for their work on Vimeo is considerably more significant than those on YouTube.
The survey revealed that all other short film platforms are used significantly less by short film consumers.
In response to the question as to which online platforms the surveyed filmmakers had used to release their short films, once again, the platforms YouTube (75%) and Vimeo (67%) were shown to be clearly in the lead.
In addition, 25% of the surveyed filmmakers used their own website to present their previously released work to the online public.
Desired supplementary information
Due to the vast amount of available short films on the internet it is difficult to find challenging shorts. Nevertheless, as survey results showed, short film platforms such as Short of the Week are still used comparatively little. Yet such platforms frequently present editorially-curated selections of short films that generally make it easier to find qualitatively superior shorts. More than half of those surveyed (56%) expressed interest in watching a curated short film program, 32% were unsure and a mere 12% showed no interest in curated programs.
On short film platforms, supplementary information is made available for each respective film. How detailed such additional information is, naturally varies from platform to platform. When regarding YouTube however, the most frequented online platform, one finds very little information about the films. The information provided by an editorially-managed short film platform generally includes extra details such as format and genre data. Responding to the question of what information the survey participants would like to have for each respective film, 80% wished for a synopsis. Nearly half of those surveyed (45%) also considered screenshots (stills) to be important as well as links to further websites etc. which correspond to the given film (48%). Data referring to awards a film may have received interested 32% of the participants. Film crew particulars were only considered relevant for 29% and film format specifications for just 27%. Only 12% of those surveyed also wanted sales / distribution information for the short films.
The refinancing of short films
Online, short films can be refinanced through advertising revenues or payment models. 33% of those surveyed were of the opinion that the refinancing of short films on online platforms should occur through advertising revenue. Another 33% preferred the combination of advertising income with the extra alternative of ad-free content upon payment. Almost a quarter of survey participants (24%) thought that short films on online platforms should be available both free of charge and free of advertising. The lowest amount, merely 9% of those asked, supported the idea of refinancing online short films through payment.
At the same time, it seems that most filmmakers who make their films available online are not focussed on refinancing their film. Nearly all surveyed short filmmakers (96%) stated that their main aim in doing so is to reach a larger audience. Equally, more than half of the survey participants (56%) asserted that they thereby hope to attract the attention of professionals from film and cultural sectors. Barely over a quarter of surveyed filmmakers (27%) stated that financial gain was of high priority when releasing their work on the internet.
Overall, it is to be expected that the online utilisation of short films will continue to increase in coming years and that the volume of short films on the internet will rise.
The demand for online platforms for the reception of short films is high among short film enthusiasts. While the majority of short film consumers still turn to desktop PCs and laptops in order to watch shorts online, trends indicate that there will be a rise in the use of mobile devices for watching short films in the near future, with streaming services in a clear lead over download options. Based on the incalculable amount of short films on the internet, many short film consumers desire editorially-curated short film programs.
Nevertheless, most short film enthusiasts do not currently use online platforms with curated programs. The most popular models for refinancing short films on online platforms is through advertising or a combination of advertising and paying for an ad-free viewing experience. On the other hand, strict payment-only models find little resonance among users. However, the results of this survey show that most short filmmakers do not place a high priority on the refinancing of short films through their presence on online platforms. On the contrary, by presenting their short films online, the majority of filmmakers are focussed on reaching the greatest audience possible.
* Müller, Isabell: The way to the realisation of a digital audiovisual archive, based on the example of the conception of a digital platform for the presentation of short films. Darmstadt, Hochschule Darmstadt (Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences), Department of Media, master thesis, 2015 (available in German only)