We Live in the Golden Age of Video Essays

Runtimes are ever-on-the-rise, but quality continues to be a staple of the genre.

A. Khaled

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Courtesy of Lindsay Ellis, Veritasium and Kat Blaque respectively.

Often slipping our perspectives on the early days of user-generated content online is the fact that the medium is very young, so to have it even remotely figured out this early in its lifetime — especially in contrast to print, radio and broadcast television — is nothing short of miraculous. This is true of the video essay genre which in the span of less than a decade has now taken on its quasi-final form–a motion-picture-length visual dissertation on any given topic, bolstered by copious amounts of research and an elaborate presentation to foot. One wouldn’t be remiss to call this a “golden age” of sorts, the nomenclature sounding less hyperbolic the more one considers where this genre has started, and how far it has come over the last few years.

Original attempts at the video essay genre were quintessential products of the early internet–a lot of emphasis on (often insensitive) humor, and the information is interspersed between skits as creators were looking for any means to retain their audience’s eyeballs as simple academic blabber then didn’t suffice. What transpired since is a combination of video equipment becoming more affordable and more user-friendly for regular consumers to fully harness the power of, and editing software looking less like an enigma only a Hollywood-grade editor could decipher–this subsequently made for an explosion in the number of video essayists, and even those with existing followings took the leap forward and upgraded their presentation to meet ever-shifting production standards accordingly.

A thing that remains true of the internet is that audiences are sophisticated, and their taste for content can be scaled up to do away with the less-pertinent aspects of the core content produced, so skits and visual recreations of then-nascent internet memes took a backseat to the more substantive analysis, and even as essays’ runtime continued to balloon, the people watching have yet to show any significant signs of dismay. This shift took place on the heels of YouTube abandoning views for watchtime as a primary determinant of healthy engagement–that combined with later tweaks to the recommendation algorithm in order to accommodate the platform’s…

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A. Khaled

Internet culture scribe with an interest in the digital economy, content creators, media and politics.