SOUNDING BOARD: YouTube is betting on its established relationships with creators and advertisers to make Shorts a success. Seven social media experts discuss whether it presents a serious challenge to platforms like TikTok.
YouTube Shorts, the video platform's answer to TikTok and Instagram Reels, is rolling out globally following a series of betas over the past nine months.
The short-form video product was beta launched in India in September last year, and subsequently rolled out to 26 markets, including the US, from early 2021. It will now be available in the more than 100 countries.
While the global launch will offer all users the ability to create short video, the YouTube Shorts player has been available for viewing worldwide since September. The company claims it has surpassed 6.5 billion daily views.
YouTube believes its extensive library of videos and its creator network, built over its 16-year history, gives it a competitive advantage in the short video space. The platform offers creators the ability to sample audio from all videos across YouTube. Long-form video creators can opt out of having their video remixed.
YouTube Shorts is integrated into the YouTube platform, accessible on the main homepage and soon, via a separate tab on mobile. Users can edit pre-existing videos or shoot new videos using a multi-segment camera, which allows multiple video clips to be strung together.
Shorts were 15 seconds or less during the original beta, but will now be extended to up to 60 seconds. This is a similar strategy to that adopted by TikTok, which originally limited videos to 15-seconds before eventually extending to 3 minutes. Instagram Reels, meanwhile, can be either 15- or 30-seconds long.
YouTube is launching additional features for the international expansion, including the ability to add text or clips to specific points in a video, as well as captions and colour correction filters.
To encourage uptake among creators, YouTube will offer monetisation rewards. A YouTube Shorts Fund will distribute over US$100 million over the course of 2021-2022, it said.
This is not the first time a dominant tech platform has copied features from burgeoning apps, and it usually results in reduced competition. Instagram rolled out its ephemeral Stories feature, a carbon copy of Snapchat Stories, in 2016 and has far surpassed Snapchat's user base since.
Now that YouTube Shorts is entering global beta, what does this mean its short video competitors? We ask industry experts in Asia-Pacific whether this is the beginning of the end for short video pioneers like TikTok and Snapchat, how platforms can seek to defend or gain market share in this competitive space, and how brands are expected to respond.
Campaign: Do you expect users to flock to Shorts, and away from platforms like TikTok?
Charlotte Wright, chief growth officer, Wavemaker Asia-Pacific:
Recent data from AppAnnie shows TikTok surpassing YouTube in terms of time spent in the US and the UK. In APAC, TikTok has challenges in key markets like India and doesn’t compete as well in markets like Japan and Korea, with highly developed local content ecosystems built with YouTube. However across a number of markets, especially in Southeast Asia, it has been incredibly successful especially with younger, female audiences.
YouTube is therefore in a position where it needs to innovate, and rolling out Shorts to attract users will be welcomed by advertisers—especially with the scale of the roll-out across many markets. We will be looking at this market-by-market to identify where Shorts is successful at attracting users, also taking learnings from India. However, we fully expect TikTok, whose superpower is really speed, to continue to innovate in order to maintain its user growth.
Alex Zhang, head of strategy, VCCP:
Shorts will certainly be a notable competition for TikTok, but nowhere near a death knell, for the following reasons:
Different userbase: TikTok is edgy, young, and trendy—established for a new age of predominately Gen Z creators. The YouTube brand draws a much more mass audience, with a creator base of all ages. TikTok’s ‘authentic’ content has endeared itself to its user base. The ‘production tools’ that the app equips its users with such as filters, songs, and new AR effects gives a lower entry barrier to people to becoming creators. As opposed to YouTube which still require a level of technical production detail, TikTok has democratised content creation for everyone. Shorts will look to replicate a level of this but TikTok is still the king in this regard.
The brand factor: The production quality of YouTube videos has also risen over the years, but glossier does not always mean better. TikTok’s brand is built on authenticity and a level of rawness that the YouTube brand does not have. TikTok’s influence over culture, the creators that became famous on the app, its own hit list of songs, all give TikTok a level of ‘cool factor’ that the Shorts brand will take a long time to cultivate.
Differing fundamentals: TikTok has its roots in Musical.ly. Dance, songs, singing, and other areas of creativity are such an integral part of TikTok. Shorts simply won’t have that in its DNA. I can foresee TikTok and Shorts coexisting in (somewhat) harmony as the same person will use the two platforms in different ways to create different types of content. The former still for high-energy whimsical pieces, and latter to be defined by Shorts.
Xiaofeng Wang, principal analyst, Forrester:
Facebook had launched two attempts to copy TikTok: Lasso (separate app, failed) and then Instagram Reels (in app, not as successful as Stories). Launching a separate app (like Lasso’s case) is a lot harder to succeed (which seems also to be YouTube Shorts approach), because it requires users to download a new app, much harder than introducing a new feature in the same app to existing users. Secondly, when there’s already an existing dominating app with high adoption, consumers have low motivation to download a new app that serves a similar purpose. In addition, when Instagram added the ‘Stories’ functionality in 2016, Snapchat was a much smaller player with lower adoption, only around 80 million MAU, while Instagram already reached 430 million.
It’s easier to succeed when a large platform trying to take over a much smaller competitor by replicating the latter’s popular functionality. But TikTok is a completely difference case, since it has reached 689 million MAU in January 2021. Despite that TikTok’s MAU is still smaller than Instagram and YouTube’s 1-2 billions, it will be much harder to replace it simply by launching a similar functionality. TikTok has become a mainstream and the go-to short video platform for hundreds of millions of consumers globally, it’s hard for any new platform to replace, even from YouTube.
Punsak Limvatanayingyong (Oui), MD of creator growth, AnyMind Group:
Today, we're living in a world where platforms have a pull towards users based on functionality and usability, but also we're seeing a steady pull by creators themselves attracting audiences on whatever platform they are on. This has ultimately given rise to this version of influencer marketing prevalent for the past few years. In this case, we're looking at a situation where platform functionality matters, but also the types of content that content creators make available on Shorts.
In fact, recent times have shown that TikTok is also able to adapt and evolve as a platform by increasing content duration to three minutes to cater to a wider variety of content. On the flip side, Shorts falls under Google's marketing stack and thus would mean that marketers do not necessarily have to adapt their materials too much.
With Covid-19 increasing both audiences and creators on both platforms, there are a lot of opportunities for both platforms in this era of short-form videos, and I believe that YouTube did not launch Shorts to kill off TikTok, but rather to share this space and provide more options for audiences.
Andréanne Leclerc, regional managing partner & head of social, Asia, Ogilvy:
The user perspective is not the only variable here. It also depends on the creators. With YouTube offering more formats to express themselves and the ability to move from short to medium and long form content it becomes very interesting creatively and from a monetisation standpoint. The creator's community is massive on YouTube and with this new format they are providing them with more options in an ecosystem that is much bigger. For YouTube is it for surely great for retention and market share growth.
While Gen Z have been embracing TikTok with a lot of enthusiasm, YouTube content is still a go-to platform for them. For older generations the comfort level with YouTube is definitely higher. The uniqueness of TikTok is undeniable but also very niche (focus on short). It will be interesting to see if they venture into longer form as well, expand functionalities and how they might deepen their ecosystem.
It will also be interesting to see how creators balance content between platforms. It is certainly easy at the moment to create shorts on TikTok with full-on fun functions and a continuous flow of fresh ideas, trends, dance moves.
Tom Simpson, SVP APAC, AdColony:
'Big tech' has a mixed history in adapting functionality first popularised on other platforms. The ‘Stories’ format is a great example. ‘Stories’ was initially a Snapchat innovation, which Instagram successfully copied and innovated across it’s audience. YouTube tried to adapt the format too, but couldn’t find an audience for ‘Stories’. Worth noting that Snapchat continues to thrive, and has even returned to growth in recent years.
However, when it comes to competing with TikTok, YouTube has some built-in advantages. First, YouTube has a huge user base of over 2 billion people, of which around a billion are in Asia Pacific. This offers instant scale, even beyond TikTok.
YouTube also already has extensive music licensing arrangements in place, which will widen the creative capabilities for clips that utilise the ‘Shorts’ feature. This offers potential strategic advantage.
Finally, a long list of existing YouTube creators and influencers are incentivised to make ‘Shorts’ a success. Content creators who worked hard to build up their subscriber count and influence on the YouTube platform during the pre-TikTok era, will now no longer have to start from scratch by doing the same for TikTok—instead, they can just monetise via YouTube.
Anurag Gupta, chief operating officer, ADA
TikTok has shown there is a huge demand for this format, however is still trying to find the best ways to monetise ad revenue. TikTok is currently on a huge promotion drive within the business community to increase the uptake of ad inventory with aggressive training programs and new formats.
YouTube Shorts is entering this market knowing there is demand and with the experience and trust of Google advertising in delivery and measurement will be hoping to increase its own revenue whilst taking on a new disruptor in the market. For me the key benefit for YouTube is the ability to reach a new audience that is on TikTok, particularly the younger demographics.
Campaign: We know brands prefer working with fewer, trusted platforms. Do you expect brands to prefer Shorts over other platforms? Why?
I foresee brands will have an easier time to uptake YouTube Shorts as part of their channel repertoire. Google (as well as YouTube) are already fairly entrenched as a part of most brands’ media plans. But this doesn’t mean they will completely overlook TikTok. Shorts will also be easier to work with for the following reasons:
Brand safety: As mentioned afore, TikTok’s userbase is still predominately young. This means for one that a young audience segment is not aligned with all brands. A bigger issue is brand safety. The US and UK government has investigated the app for collecting information on children. The Indian government banned TikTok for exposing children to sexual predators, pornographic content, and cyberbullying. These are extremely serious issues that brands want to stay as far away from as possible. YouTube has battled its shares of brand safety issues and Google has stringent measures in place. This would be a key issue that makes Shorts easier to work with.
Established creators: Many of TikTok’s creators are new to the scene, their personal brands are still evolving alongside the platform. Shorts will have access to long established YouTube veterans. These people are some of the first content creators that made it big on the Internet. The YouTube creators has established personal brands, established ways of working with advertisers, and a certain level of production quality that is guaranteed—all giving advertisers a greater peace of mind to work with.
An important criterion for brands to evaluate digital platforms for advertising/marketing is its active user number and if the users fit brands’ target audience profile. Brands wouldn’t invest until they see the results of adoption, which may take a while, if YouTube Shorts manage to succeed in the end.
Ultimately, data would be able to tell brands what platforms they should work with, depending on their target users. We need to remember that these platforms have created monetisation opportunities with content creators at the core, where advertising can be targeted based on the content a creator produces, and by extension, what their audiences see.
Let's take influencer marketing as an example—brands seldom choose the platform they want to run campaigns on first. Instead, they look at whether an influencer's followers match their target audience demographics, and then select the platform that influencer is on.
Advertising follows the same way—where audience is the key selection criteria. One of the reasons brands opt for YouTube as a platform first is because they know YouTube has a wide and diverse audience, which also most likely contains their target audience demographic.
Some brands have been finding it challenging to grasp TikTok and build their presence. At the same time, the power and authenticity of the platform is also very attractive. Cracking the code could help them connect with a generation that is quite fluid and with which they need to build acceptance before preference. On the other hand, everyone is familiar with YouTube. Shorts is basically a new format, it is not like setting up a presence on a brand-new platform. For some brands, the strategy is about being everywhere new and for others investing big in the most common denominator platforms. No one wants to dilute their budget too much but at the same time no one wants to miss out on a growth opportunity.
Ultimately brands go where their audience spends time. And for the highly prized Gen Z and Millennial audience, that is now TikTok and gaming. Brands see bigger opportunities in building around the creative capabilities of these platforms to engage with their audience—shifting from polished TVC video content to informal vertical content on TikTok. Where new formats successfully aggregate consumer attention, brands rightly invest time and money—until then, they focus on executing well against the biggest opportunities in front of them at the time.
Additional reporting by Surekha Ragavan and Rahul Sachitanand.
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