In an effort to present itself as a viable competitor to the reigning short-form video platform TikTok, YouTube announced today its rival service YouTube Shorts is now being watched by over 1.5 billion logged-in users every month, less than two years after its launch. By comparison, TikTok announced 1 billion monthly users in September 2021.
Though it hasn't announced updated figures since, TikTok was forecast to hit the 1.5 billion per month user figure sometime this year.
Related to its new milestone, YouTube also promoted Shorts' ability to drive viewers to creators' long-form video channels as a byproduct of its investments in Shorts. It's referring to the trend as "the rise of the multiformat creator" but, in reality, it seems to be more an admission that YouTube still sees more value in its longer-form content.
The company, in its announcement, positioned its video platform as one that better reflects the reality of today's viewer, who engages with video at different times and places throughout the day. In some cases, users will want to quickly scroll through shorter content -- such as when killing time while out and about. At other times, they may be able to watch for longer periods and will turn to traditional YouTube videos to do so.
However, YouTube's report doesn't take into account how TikTok has been steadily inching into its territory with long-form content of its own, and could potentially lure creators to a platform where both shorter and longer content is more intertwined.
Though not yet differentiated as a separate product in the app, TikTok videos can now be up to 10 minutes in length, following a change made this February after previously expanding videos to three minutes the prior year. The move was designed to attract the same sort of longer-form video creators that YouTube typically courted. With the expansion, creators gained more flexibility to film things like cooking demos, beauty tutorials, educational content, comedy sketches and more, without having to worry too much about the video's length. And further down the road, longer videos could also open the door to more opportunities to show advertising, of course.
YouTube, on the other hand, appears to be promoting a different strategy. Instead of making short-form the core of its service with long-form as an option, as TikTok does, YouTube sees Shorts as a way for creators to reach a new audience who may then become more regular viewers of their long-form content.
"Long-form content remains the best way for creators to deeply engage and develop long-term relationships with their audiences," said Tara Walpert Levy, YouTube’s vice president of the Americas. "But Shorts offer an exciting, new way to be a part of a viewer’s journey and to introduce themselves and their whole portfolio to new audiences. This approach is yielding real results; channels uploading both short and long-form content are seeing better overall watch time and subscriber growth than those uploading only one format," she added.
The company didn't share specific figures related to the average increased watch time, though, making this claim somewhat suspect.
Instead, it only pointed to a couple of case studies as proof of this trend. In one, creator Ian Boggs is said to have grown his channel to 4 billion lifetime views, with 73% of them stemming from his Shorts feed. During the pandemic, Boggs leaned into Shorts and gained 5 million subscribers between 2021 and 2022, YouTube said. In another example, creator Rosanna Pansino is said to have more than doubled views on her channel since adopting Shorts, and Shorts is now her top traffic source.
But even in these two examples, there was an indication that the lift from Shorts could vary between creators. An earlier version of YouTube's advisory noted Shorts was then Pansino's second-largest traffic source, driving more than 20% of her total views. That reference was removed to reflect more recent stats, but YouTube didn't share the new percentage of her views attributed to Shorts. (Still, it's not likely as high as the 73% figure Boggs has seen.)
With these statements and examples, it sounds as if YouTube's strategy is to position Shorts as a feeder to its long-form content, as opposed to a product that's worthy all on its own. This aligns with YouTube's broader goal to chase TV ad dollars instead of just digital ones. As part of that effort, YouTube this year for the first time hosted its annual Brandcast event during the TV Upfronts, instead of during IAB's digital-focused NewFronts, where it made a case to marketers that it should be in the running alongside networks for their TV ad budgets. It also spoke about how much YouTube content is now watched on the living room's big-screen TV, saying that YouTube has more than 50% of ad-supported streaming watch time on TV screens.
Shorts, meanwhile, is not a product designed with the TV in mind. And while it's useful for creators to have the option to create shorter content, it's worth noting that YouTube is now speaking about Shorts as a way to boost traffic to longer videos. That's a signal that YouTube believes its core value is not really in its TikTok clone, but in the longer video content it's already known for -- and which can fetch a higher price in the ad market.