The Rise of Shorts

The rise of shorts, where feature films can't climb.

In the world of motion pictures, brevity has often played second fiddle to long-form and serial narrative. No Longer. Shorts are in.

Traditionally, short-form content in the cinema acted as modest openers to the main cinematic event, offering a brief glimpse into diverse narratives or experimental storytelling. The feature film is what has drawn paying audiences to the cinema, with shorter forms of entertainment and “newsreels” giving way to previews and adverts. In the golden age of cinema, prior to broadband internet access to streaming and video on demand, the feature-length film dominated commercial entertainment strategy.

Now, the tide seems to be turning.

An appreciation for more concise pieces of art has re-emerged, signalling a renaissance for short films.  Audiences are increasingly captivated by bite-sized content and rapid digital dissemination. This reflects an evolving media landscape craving concise, impactful storytelling. A surge in user-created content across social media platforms and the emergence of TikTok has captured the imagination of younger generations and a growing market share in the commercial competition for the leisure time of consumer audiences.

This generational shift from what content Hollywood might provide to what content audiences want to see has resulted in active search for short-form content on-line by younger, highly proactive generations. Professionally produced short-form content has begun to grow beyond its recent niche followings as audiences increasingly consume higher quality offerings.

This rediscovery of the Short is not merely a nostalgic nod to the past but a pragmatic adaptation to the present. It demonstrates how brevity, once seen as a limitation in Hollywood, is becoming a commercial virtue in a world with intensive competition for audience attention. The art of the Short is ready to take centre stage, not as filler, but as a feature in its own right, heralding a new era where less might offer more.

The made-for-today format of Short Film offers opportunity for producer, investor and audience alike in an alignment of interests that seems to mirror the characteristics of the digital age itself.

What is a Short?

A Short Film, colloquially known simply as a “Short” is a succinct cinematic narrative distinguished primarily by its duration. The boundaries defining Shorts have been traditionally set by runtime, with the threshold being a complete story of 40 minutes or less, as defined by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. This classification is acknowledged by eminent film festivals globally, including the prestigious Venice Film Festival.

The New York Film Academy goes further, with a special “festival” length for Short Films at 30 minutes, to increase efficiency within festival organisers’ programming schedules. The common characteristic of a Short, as opposed to a typical TikTok video for example, is the full narrative structure. Despite brevity, Shorts tend to encapsulate a complete story arc with a beginning, middle, and end, offering a compact yet potent medium for story-telling.

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Historically, nomenclature for the Short Film have evolved, with terms such as “short subjects” being prevalent from the 1920s to the 1970s in the United States. Shorts cross the full spectrum of genres, from animation and comedy to documentary and drama, mirroring the diversity inherent in their feature-length counterparts. The format of presentation also varies widely, including traditional film reels to modern digital formats, reflecting the technological evolution within the film industry.

Showcasing Talent, Technologies and Techniques

Shorts have long served as fertile ground for burgeoning filmmakers to hone their craft, experiment with avant-garde storytelling techniques, and showcase their creative prowess unfettered by commercial pressures. Film schools ardently advocate the creation of short films as a pedagogical strategy to practice the nuances of filmmaking among students. They have consistently served as a canvas for artists to sketch their vision, untouched by the financial pressures of commercial feature films. The essence of a Short Film is not just conveyed through its narrative, but through the creator’s audacity to challenge norms and venture into unexplored territories of storytelling, technology, and cinematic techniques.

At the heart of every Short lies a spark of innovation. Consider when Georges Méliès enchanted audiences with his visual trickery in A Trip to the Moon, or modern-day virtuosos blending storytelling with digital artistry. The Short Film format often pioneers new technologies, whether it’s 3D animation, virtual reality or groundbreaking visual effects, acting as a herald of broader cinematic advancements.

Image from the Short Film, A Trip to the Moon from 1902.
The landing on the eye of the Moon, the most iconic scene in Georges Méliès’ 1902 sci-fi silent 18 minute Short.

Short Films are more than a showcase; they are a testbed. They have traditionally provided a low-risk environment for filmmakers to refine their craft, experiment with new techniques and showcase their storytelling prowess. This is where directors, cinematographers, and producers cut their teeth, often leading to grander ventures in feature films or series.

In an industry in which every production dollar counts, Short Films offer a more economical platform to display talent and innovative techniques. They encapsulate creativity, often achieved with modest budgets yet leaving a lasting imprint on the audience. Shorts have birthed careers, spurred technological advancements and fostered a culture of creative boldness. The impact of Shorts extends beyond the screen, connecting aspiring filmmakers with industry veterans, potential investors and global audiences within an increasingly sophisticated ecosystem.

Marketing and Revenue Generation in the Global Festival Circuit

This ecosystem has traditionally been overshadowed by the commercial results of feature-length films and the business models of television and streaming. Short Films began to find some commercial life through the global film festival circuit in the 1990s. Film festivals recognised the vast supply of Short Films, offering venue as well as opportunity for both content creators and the media execs tasked with discovering new film-makers. But a growing demand to showcase Shorts as content in their own right has been transcendental; from the festival circuit being a mere rite of passage for filmmakers and  morphing into a process for marketing and revenue generation.

Many film festivals charge for attendance at screenings and offer revenue sharing to those submitting new Shorts to their festival audiences. The outcome from this is a growing number of acquisition execs penning deals for Shorts to fill streaming libraries and television programming (particularly digital FAST channels). Reputable festivals like Cannes, Sundance, and Toronto International Film Festival serve as crucibles where Shorts are not only showcased but also marketed with an effectiveness rivalling that of feature films. They provide a platform for a growing number of dedicated Short producers to network with industry moguls, secure distribution deals and even attain critical acclaim.

Short Film poster for The Present
The Present (2020) directed by Fara Nabulsi won the BAFTA Award for the Best British Short Film and was nominated for an Academy Award.

However, it’s not the applause but the opportunities that resonate with potential investors and distribution channels. A strong presence in a reputable festival can unlock doors to funding, sponsorships, and a global audience, initiating revenue generation through festival screening fees and beyond.

The commercial narrative of Short Films is shifting from the erstwhile ‘art for art’s sake’ mantra. The festival circuit is evolving into a marketplace where commercial transactions occur amidst the soft glow of projector lights. For instance, platforms like Netflix and HBO have been known to scout for compelling Short at these festivals, offering lucrative distribution deals.

Moreover, festivals have spurred ancillary revenue streams like merchandising, digital downloads and licensing deals for Short filmmakers, providing some financial sustenance. Every screening, review and laurel has added a touch of financial viability to the Short Film.

Developing Channels of Distribution and Delivery

As the digital age develops, the channels of distribution for Short Films are diversifying beyond traditional cinema halls and streaming channel. Leading this digital dissemination has been YouTube, a platform that has democratised short film distribution. With its global reach and user-friendly interface, YouTube has become a staple for filmmakers to showcase their work to a worldwide audience.

Platforms like FilmDoo, IndieFlix, and Amazon Prime Video Direct are broadening the horizons for Short Film distribution, providing curated spaces for these compact narratives. Each platform offers a unique proposition, catering to the diverse needs of Short Film creators. The dynamism of online platforms, paired with the avant-garde ethos of Web3, is reshaping the distribution map, fostering a milieu where accessibility and monetisation coexist.

Web3 platforms, underpinned by blockchain technology, are ushering in additional options for film production, finance and distribution. The decentralised nature of Web3 facilitates direct interaction between creators and consumers, eliminating intermediaries and fostering a potentially fairer means of revenue distribution.

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The digital platforms, both mainstream and emerging, are accelerating the journey of Short Films from obscurity to commercial relevance. The synergy between Shorts and digital distribution channels signifies a larger shift in the entertainment, where every Short Film, regardless of budget or pedigree, has a shot at reaching a global audience and finding its niche in the commercial framework of consumer audiences. As distribution channels widen, the commercial potential of Short Films is increasingly being re-evaluated.

Changing Audience Appetites

The modern pace of life may be reshaping audience engagement with entertainment content. The growing preference for succinct, impactful storytelling continues to push Shorts into the limelight. This shift mirrors the evolving preferences of a digitally native audience, where brevity is becoming synonymous with relevancy.

Short Films tend to condense complex narratives into bite-sized viewing experiences, offering a brief escape without demanding a hefty time investment. In a culture leaning towards ‘snackable’ content, short films strike a resonant chord. Digital platforms, becoming the epicentre of content consumption, seem tailored made for Short Film distribution. Platforms like YouTube and Vimeo are not just distribution channels but communities where audiences can engage with filmmakers. This community building, audience engagement and interaction between creator and consumer is also the hallmark of Web3 and an increasingly necessary recipe for online success that is absent within traditional cinema, television and streaming.

By design or not, Short Films have begun to find their natural place within these changing audience dynamics. Strategies like teaser releases and social media campaigns are piquing audience curiosity, driving them to explore professionally produced Shorts that are increasingly tailored to today’s on-line ecosystem.

Case Studies

The commercial viability of short films is best illustrated through real-world examples. The following case studies showcase the blend of innovative marketing, digital distribution, and audience engagement:

The Heartfelt Narrative: The Present
(Dir: Farah Nabulsi, 2020). Garnering accolades in the festival circuit, the BAFTA-winning and Oscar-nominated Short Film, The Present, found its way to Netflix, showcasing a blend of critical acclaim and digital distribution.

The Animated Marvel: Hair Love
(Dir: Matthew A. Cherry, Everett Downing Jr. & Bruce W. Smith, 2019). This animated Short won an Academy Award and captured hearts globally, showcasing a novel pathway to commercial success through online crowdfunding and distribution deals.

The Viral Sensation: Kung Fury
(Dir: David Sandberg, 2015). By leveraging social media, this innovated Short created a buzz that transcended geographical boundaries and illustrated the potential of community-backed funding and digital marketing.

The Festival Darling: Nefta Football Club
(Dir: Yves Plat, 2018). This inspiring Short demonstrates how festival accolades can translate into distribution deals and wider audience reach.

These case studies illuminate the multifaceted commercial landscape that Short Films are now able to effectively navigate, propelled by digital innovation, audience engagement, and a global platform provided by festivals and online distribution channels.

The story of Short Films as underdog-turned-champion unfolds as a testament to the evolving ethos of the Media and Entertainment Industry. Their commercial viability is manifesting in reality, fostered by digital platforms, audience engagement, and innovative marketing strategies.

Distribution channels continue to widen and diversify, bridged by platforms ranging from the traditional festival circuit to FAST networks and hyper-connected Web3 communities. Each new avenue is indicative of a broader narrative where Short Films are thriving in a fiercely competitive market.

The commercial ascent of short films is a harbinger of a broader shift in the entertainment industry, where digital innovation, audience engagement, and succinct storytelling converge to create a new paradigm.

The ascent of the Short Film mirrors broader shifts towards a more inclusive, community-focused creator economy in which new business models are connecting audiences directly to content production and producers directly to paying consumers. As access to Shorts continues to expand, the viability of dedicated production companies and professional Short Film-makers grows with it. This offers new opportunity for entrepreneur and investor alike.


  1. Ok. I agree. If I can find a team that sustainably produces short-form content that generates revenues from paying audiences (not as marketing material), then I’m interested as an investor. Not in the separate pieces of content, but in the company that produces it.

    I would be even more interested in a company that sustainably delivers short-form content to audiences that want it. If only I could have invested in YouTube when it was a startup.

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