It’s very rare to see YouTube launch a new product. In the past 12 years we’ve only seen it a handful of times such as the launch of live streaming, the introduction of the Creator Studio and YouTube communities. None of these were that impactful for brands and advertisers but were more useful ways for creators to manage their content or provide additional revenue streams.
However, that all changed late last year. During Lockdown, TikTok’s daily watch time reached an all-time high of 85 minutes and our attention shifted to fun, relatable content that is easily digestible. The platform offers short-form, sound on video that has shaken up social media.
This hasn’t gone unnoticed by rival platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat who have each released a competitor (Reels and Spotlight respectively). TikTok’s astronomical growth hasn’t been smooth sailing either, from previously violating child-privacy laws, to Trump wanting it banned during the height of presidential elections.
In September 2020, hot on the heels of TikTok being banned in India over national security fears, YouTube launched its own short-form challenger, YouTube shorts. Catapulting itself straight to the forefront of the bloody battle between Reels and TikTok, YouTube brings with it a colossal decade of dominating online video. I mean, if we’re going to be really nitpicky, YouTube was actually the first platform to host short-form content. Shout-out to Me At the Zoo - 19 seconds of pure awkwardness uploaded in 2005.
Launching in beta in India late last year (where TikTok is banned), the service is now in beta globally and in the last stages of roll-out in the US and will be imminently available for UK users. Shorts is YouTube’s answer to the ever-growing demand for short-form, snappy content. They are videos in vertical format, between 15 - 60 seconds long, and all you need to record them is your smartphone.
Shorts have been so successful that as of March 2021 they are receiving over 6.5 billion daily views globally, and YouTube has just announced a $100 million creator fund to reward creators who produce original, engaging, impactful Shorts content.
Well we already know that YouTube reaches 96% of UK adults who, on average, spend over 46 minutes on the platform every single day. It’s a sound-on platform where 95% of users watch with the sound-on, unlike Instagram where around 56% of users watch content without the sound.
More than that, YouTube has already paid over $30 billion to content creators and media partners in the last three years alone. The platform also has long-standing relationships with music labels which positions it perfectly to land grab from TikTok’s, as of yet, unchecked capability of skyrocketing catchy tracks to the top of the charts.
In addition to those impressive numbers, it’s content creators who make it an appealing prospect. YouTube was the first home for content creators and has been for a long time. They’ve put years into growing established audiences who care deeply about their lives, their content, and their personalities. This is why emerging platforms have always courted YouTube creators, in hopes of them jumping on board to make content. Most of the first creators on TikTok (previously Musical.ly) were YouTube creators.
Truthfully, content creators are already spread across multiple channels and they don’t have the time or energy to invest in a new platform, which has held some back from jumping into the highly competitive TikTok rat race. That’s where the appeal of YouTube shorts comes in. Creators can simply upload content with #Shorts (or film it on the dedicated Shorts Camera), seamlessly integrate the content into their usual strategy and schedule, and bring their dedicated audience with them.
So let’s take a closer look at what YouTube Shorts really is or, rather, what it isn’t.
It isn’t a TikTok clone. We all know how TikTok works - it has a high turnover of content that is primarily served to an audience via an algorithm loosely based on the interests on the For You Page. Trends last for a little over a week because both TikTok and Instagram focus on instant reactions and engagement, making it difficult for brands to partner and extend any form of initial interest spike.
Conversely, YouTube’s strength is its discoverability and ability to pull up relevant content that is weeks, months, or even years old. The platform knows that we want to discover content that personally connects with us around particular topics and interests. The same is true for YouTube Shorts, which means the behaviours of both creators and their audience will develop to be vastly different from TikTok.
For brands, this means that there is infinitely greater lifetime value of content on Shorts vs. struggling to remain relevant or front of mind on TikTok. As an agency, we guarantee organic results across our campaigns - those are views, impressions, and actions that are inspired solely by the connection between a creator and their audience. As most brands and agencies know, this is difficult with TikTok, where the platform recommends allocating at least 50% of your campaign spend to paid, in order to achieve reach with content.
YouTube has been a haven for long-form content whilst Facebook (and others) valued shorter, bite-size videos - volume of content over quality. Long-form content is narrative-driven, rich in storytelling, and appeals to audiences who typically have a “lean back” viewing behaviour. Brands see immense value in partnering with YouTube creators to tell their brand story because longer videos are an invaluable tool for explaining their product in detail and driving measurable results.
However, YouTube Shorts provides an opportunity for these same brands already investing in sponsored content to test short form. Understandably, TikTok (and Reels) is new territory for a lot of brands which poses a certain level of risk. Partnering with YouTube creators who already have established audiences to test this new format is an appealing prospect - it’s a cheaper investment vs long-form content, allows brands to plug into an algorithm working hard to recommend Shorts content, and allows a brand to accrue a hyper-engaged audience from scratch.
YouTube is fast improving its Shorts offering and is in the process of rolling out some other features which may be familiar to TikTok users. Soon users will be able to sample audio from any video on YouTube. This is one of the primary ways TikTok has been able to catapult tracks to the top of the charts, and it poses an interesting opportunity for music labels.
YouTube is already the hero platform for music video releases. Intelligently targeting and partnering with creators who speak directly to an artist’s target audience, to create YouTube shorts featuring these tracks, will allow labels to amplify their hits amongst their core audience and engage new fans they’ve struggled to reach.
It’s all about trust
Ultimately, YouTube is trusted by content creators and brands alike because it is consistent and reliable. YouTube has been refining its algorithm and platform for the best part of a decade. Moreover, with the behemoth backing of Google, and its ad infrastructure, Youtube offers brands the opportunity to craft a 360° approach to their marketing, whilst many are skeptical about ads on TikTok.
Work smarter, not harder. Content creators have been at the heart of YouTube since well before Charlie Bit MY Finger. Partner with these creators who are the envy of other platforms to begin your short-form journey, remain relevant for longer and remove the risk posed by emerging platforms.
If you want to stay up to date on any YouTube developments, check out Google’s bi-monthly YouTube Shorts report: https://support.google.com/youtube/thread/96358511/youtube-shorts-report?hl=en