How the rise of TikTok has impacted YouTube
Short-form video has exploded in popularity since the Covid-19 pandemic, but that hasn’t necessarily meant long-form content has been left to gather dust.
On a recent episode of The Media Leader Podcast, YouTube’s global director of Culture & Trends Kevin Allocca spoke with editor-in-chief Omar Oakes about how short-form video, which was popularised on TikTok (leading to similar tools on YouTube and Instagram), has widened the pool of video creators and their audiences.
Allocca is also the author of Videocracy, an exploration of YouTube’s most interesting trends and the impact of video in our culture.
Listen to the clip, or read a transcript of the conversation (edited for clarity) below.
Omar Oakes: When you strip away all the professional content that’s posted on YouTube every day by broadcasters, influencers, advertisers and other publishers, and get to the user-generated content, has anything changed in terms of what “normal people” are posting?
Kevin Allocca: You mentioned the pandemic being one of the things that’s happened since I published my book [five years ago]. The pandemic accelerated a lot of behaviours that we were already seeing change. The adoption of video creation as an everyday activity started moving very rapidly at that point, and we’re still seeing growth to this day.
The rise of short form has been a major component in that, because it’s so easy to create content now.
Every year I’ve been at YouTube, it’s just gotten easier and easier every year to create video content. We’re at a point now — and some of this skews demographically, because if you’re a truly digital native your comfort with some of these technologies is perhaps a little more innate — but the act of creating has become a pop culture experience.
More and more people create content not with the aim of having a big audience around having that content; they create content to participate in something that perhaps other people or creators they follow are interested in.
You have two things happening. One, I think these short-form trends where people can participate, going back to the dance challenges, which are a little passé at this point; give people a way in to participate in something that’s bigger than them. That’s a modern cultural phenomenon, which is again less about consumption and more about the act of creation.
The other thing that’s happening is that the tools, the actual experimenting with creative tools, has become a lot more of a commonplace behaviour, particularly with the Gen Z demographic who grew up with these technologies.
Creating content with video games; using filters and effects; YouTube just announced the launch of some new tools that allow you to AI-generate backgrounds behind you. These are not made just for professional creators, or even hobbyist creators, they’re made for anybody who wants to participate in something and make something online.
That’s one of the biggest changes, I think, when I think about how YouTube was when I started and where it is today. It’s this sort of meta change that’s evolved where our average comfort with being on camera and creating video content has grown so much. Going back to the pandemic, think about how much so many of us were on camera in a way that we hadn’t been previously. It sort of starts to break down some of these more traditional barriers that perhaps we had about how we present ourselves online.
OO: What impact would you say TikTok has had on YouTube? It’s obviously a very different user experience, where you’re being served one video at a time, the whole friction of choice is essentially stripped away, and that seems to be appealing to a lot of people. The research you’ve mentioned says that 42% of YouTube users say that YouTube enables them to find the exact content they like at any moment.
You’re a part of Google, the world’s predominant search giant. Are you doubling down on search, where you allow people to find exactly what they want? Versus, ‘just go on our mobile platform, and you don’t need to search for anything, you just scroll and our algorithm will just sort you out’?
Do you think there are two worlds of online video emerging?
KA: The interesting thing about YouTube is that its proposition is to be all of these things. And it’s been interesting to look at the intersection between this stuff, because we obviously have a short-form feed that exists in YouTube Shorts on the app, and even in a lot of that viewing that you’re describing, search is not the largest chunk for these things.
It’s really recommendations that drive traffic.
You can ask any creator whether they’re getting most of their traffic through homepage recommendations, through related video recommendations, et cetera.
It is those connections between the things that you’re watching, that is the case today. And any time there is a new platform that comes in, and obviously short-form has exploded in these last few years, you start to see how these things interconnect across the platforms. Memes that exist in multiple places at the same time; creators that go from one to the other as they experiment with where they’ll be able to grow their audience the fastest and also earn a living and build a reliable business. That happens every time.
We’ve got new platforms in play, but short-form has really accelerated a lot of the casual creation that we’re talking about. It’s accelerated a lot of the interest in experiences, playing with types of filters and effects.
One of the things we track is up-and-coming creators, we call them Breakout Creators. Creators that are gaining subscribers the most, and we have different thresholds for looking at that. The only thing that seems to be common among all of them is they’re all multi-format now. They’re all making a mix of short-form, long-form, some are doing podcasts, livestreams, and we know from the research that it’s very common for people across demographics to watch content in all of those formats organically over time.
Sometimes that’s context- and device-specific, sometimes it’s just preference, but it has been really interesting to look at how short-form and long-form have developed. We like to joke that content’s gotten longer and shorter on YouTube.
People are watching trending content, they’re watching podcasts, they’re watching shorts all in the same experience. I think we’re only in the early days of understanding from a cultural perspective what the implications are when those things all exist in the same place.
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