The very first video 24-year-old Midwesterner Quinton Hoover uploaded to his YouTube channel in 2013 was one minute and 48 seconds long; his next offering lasted just nine seconds. Eight years later, Hoover’s most recent video, uploaded on November 8, is a breakdown of the noughties Nickelodeon sitcom Victorious—it runs, in total, for five hours, 34 minutes, and 59 seconds.
Who in the world wants to sit down and watch an adult man talk for almost six hours about a kids’ TV show that lasted less than three years? Trick question, easy answer: 1.5 million people. Hoover’s Victorious video is just 23 minutes shorter than the first two Lord of the Rings films combined; it is five hours and 22 minutes longer than the average video posted on YouTube’s most popular channels. In it, Hoover recaps every single episode of the show via voiceover, plays with Victorious Happy Meal toys, including a clip-in hair extension and a plastic brush, and dons a blazer to muse into a microphone about whether the show exists in a “metaverse.” It was a recipe for disaster that somehow became a feast for the eyes, but questions remain. What exactly provokes someone to make a five-hour pop culture analysis video—and what prompts a million others to watch it?
Hoover’s video wasn’t his first foray into superlong content. In June, he attracted 1.9 million viewers with “iBinged iCarly,” a four-hour, 45-minute video about another Nickelodeon show. Naturally, it was just the first installment. Hoover’s second iCarly analysis ran for three hours and 35 minutes, attracting another million viewers. That’s over eight hours of iCarly content. “People keep calling them video essays—I don’t like the term, I think it’s really pretentious,” Hoover says. “I want to start calling them breakdowns, because it’s funny for numerous reasons. I think it’s completely fair to call a five-hour rant about Victorious a breakdown.”
Hoover is not the only creator making such “breakdowns,” but before we get into that, let’s examine some ancient history. In 2012, the Pew Research Center found that “the median length of the most popular YouTube videos was two minutes and one second.” In 2019, when analyst and journalist Julia Alexander wrote “YouTube Videos Keep Getting Longer,” she referred to videos that were 20, 30, and 60 minutes long. Today, few people would refer to a half-hour YouTube video as “long.” In the same month Hoover uploaded his Victorious video, YouTube’s recommendation box fed me a one-hour, 52 minute analysis of teen drama Pretty Little Liars (“part 1” of course) and a one-hour, 42-minute video about the history of Disney’s FastPass system. Combined, these videos have more than 3 million views.
The trend seemingly started in earnest in January 2021, when a YouTuber named Action Button uploaded a five-hour, 56-minute review of the video game series Tokimeki Memorial, though he didn’t hit the million-view mark. Later that month, YouTuber Jenny Nicholson released a two-hour, 33-minute video about the supernatural drama The Vampire Diaries and accumulated some 6 million views. “It’s actually my most-viewed video now,” says the 30-year-old Nicholson, who is based in Los Angeles. “I definitely didn’t expect it to do as well as it did.”
Nicholson’s very first videos, uploaded in 2011, were slightly more than a minute long. Over the years, they’ve slowly crept up in length, until she released her first half-hour video (about The Greatest Showman) in 2018. More widely, YouTube videos began regularly exceeding the 10-minute mark around 2016, when the platform’s algorithm seemingly began prioritizing “watch time” over views, leading YouTube’s then-largest creator PewDiePie to complain: “If you want to make it on YouTube these days, just make long-ass videos, fuck any type of pacing, quality, ain’t none of that, fuck that.” Back then, videos had to hit 10 minutes to qualify for midroll advertisements; shorter videos could run adverts only at the beginning and the end. The more adverts a video has, the more money a creator can make.